INDIO, CA - APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella )
Beyonce Marches to a Different Drumline in Stunning Coachella Performance
At Coachella, Beyoncé gave the performance she should have given at the Super Bowl. Granted, she had an hour and 45 minutes to work with at the desert festival Saturday night, versus only 13 minutes to work with at that gig five years ago. But if the network, NFL, Ravens, 49ers and their fans had seen what we saw at the Empire Polo Grounds, surely they would have agreed by acclimation to, you know, just put the third quarter off by an hour and a half. Part of the brilliance of Saturday’s set was that it was more of a half-time show than her half-time show, in that she took the marching band that has been persona non grata at the Bowl for years and built a 105-minute performance around overpacked horn charts, glorified drum majorettes and nonstop drumline insanity. Who would’ve guessed the missing ingredients needed to ratchet her catalog a step up into greatness were exceptionally arranged tubas and timbales? It was an over-the-top Busby Berkeley Hollywood musical brought to the modern day by way of the great HBCU marching units of the South, and it was fairly glorious.The show served as testament not only to Beyoncé as the premier musical performer of our time, but a tribute to the power of the non-disclosure agreement. Only recently did reports emerge that the singer had hired about a hundred backup performers — the actual number was probably a little less, though the cast never stood still long enough for anyone to count — and even then, as rehearsals involved locking down a stage in L.A. for at least three months, virtually nothing about the nature of the performance leaked out, except for rumors about another Destiny’s Child reunion… which ended up being true, even if that part was a nearly superfluous cherry atop the blitz. (Probably any backup performer considering violating the NDA thought of how much worse they’d get it than Jay-Z did on “Lemonade.”While a YouTube audience waited at home for the feed to go live, the Coachella audience (comprised of the better part of the 125,000 in attendance for the day) saw nothing but 11 staggered rows of spotlights. Come the appointed minute, the platform holding those lights rose and revealed her cast of dozens, including not only a marching-in-place band but violin players, plus contortionists, “Bug A Boo” Greek-pledge male dancers, and a baton twirler to beat all baton twirlers. Coming down the walkway, mid-audience, Beyoncé initially appeared in your basic modest Egyptian queen ensemble, then quickly switched to cutoff jeans. That was the first of, surprisingly, only a couple of true costume changes: Part of the cleverness of this show was that it was staged as a series of variations on one epic production, not the series of separate vignettes you get on a typical super-diva tour. Nearly two dozen tracks got at least a partial hearing, from the opening “Crazy in Love,” the hit whose sampled horn charts surely provoked the supersized version here, to her greatest recent single, “Freedom” — which gave way to an extended coda of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the black national anthem — to opportunities for Jay-Z, Solange and the two-thirds of Destiny’s Child to say their name. The Jack White-assisted stab at Jay, “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” occasioned an additional costume change from friendly yellow to a steelier acrylic black. Some snippets were so short they didn’t even appear on the backstage setlist, like a few lines of “Irreplaceable.” For a while it seemed like the only flaw of the show might be not taking a moment to breathe amid all the medley-izing… and then she stopped to sing the tender, unhurried “Love on Top,” and even that slight objection melted away.