The Carters delivered two and a half hours of cinematic, tightly choreographed showmanship featuring 45 of the best songs from the couple’s catalogue. We saw Jay Z, Beyoncé, Mr. Carter, Mrs. Carter and The Carter Family. It was a seamless melding of beats, street cred, swagger, talent and family. The On the Run Tour tells a story. It is that story that brought nearly 30,000 to the Investors Group Field on the University of Manitoba Campus in Winnipeg. Admittedly, I was most curious to experience The Carters in what is pretty much white prairie land.
Entering the stadium, you knew that you would leave changed, different somehow. I was already different, completely confused by the many tributes to Snooki from the Jersey Shore in the audience: big hair and lots of hairspray. I assume this was a prairie misinterpretation of the ‘beyhive’, but I digress. As the stadium filled up the crowd was teased with ads and moments of silent to give the appearance of start time. An hour and fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time, the lights went down with the big screen on stage giving way to the show’s gangsta themed intro. The intro ends with the tagline “This is not real life” (keep this in mind as you read).
Jay and Beyoncé enter, each taking a wing of the stage singing their 2002 smash hit,”03 Bonnie and Clyde”. Mrs. Carter is fierce in sequins, all glamour, moving across the stage, while Mr. Carter is cool, but energetic. It was the perfect recipe to create pandemonium, tears and palpitations.
They tease the audience with a series of collabo performances, “Upgrade U”, and “Crazy in Love” before Beyoncé slips off stage, leaving Jay to perform a slew of his hits, “Show me what you got”, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, and “I just want to love you”. This is the pattern of the show; interchanged, but smartly interwoven song choices, along with the movie clips. The On the Run Tour is the love story of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and conveniently, Mr. and Mrs. Carter have all the right songs in the musical catalogue to tell this story.
The transitions were cheeky and smart, very smart. In one performance scene, Jay Z’s ‘Tom Ford’ was followed by Beyoncé's ‘Flawless’ then ‘Yonce’ and closed out with Jay Z’s ‘Jigga my Nigga’. The section not only served to established power, dominance, purpose and control, but also equality. Sean Carter and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter stand side by side, together. Make no mistake; On the Run Tour is a spectacle to witness. There were at least 18 outfit changes between the couple. The sheer volume of the songs performed is enough to drop your jaw, but threaded throughout the show is the theme of love. Love being challenged, but growing stronger with each challenge. Is this real life? The only way to truly know the answer to this question is in an Oprah Winfrey special which would probably be a good follow up to this tour.
This wasn’t Jay’s show or Beyoncé's show, though she visibly got more time in the spotlight. There were no guest acts, minimal band praise and a few dance interludes to accommodate costume changes. This show was about The Carters, and how we became The Carters. When the pair came together after an hour of alternating solos to perform ‘Drunk in love’ the stadium erupted. This was the highlight of the evening. In fact, other than Beyoncé’s mystical ability to illicit tears, convulsions and screams by lifting an eye lid, the duets were the highlight of the show. Beyoncé filled in for Timberlake on ‘Holy Grail’ while Jay Z did some choice ad libbing on Beyoncé’s tracks or simply made his presence felt, like his perfectly timed appearance at the end of ‘Single Ladies’. Don’t get it twisted, Beyoncé’s vocal prowess was not outdone as she performed tracks like “Ghost”, “Why don’t you love me?”, and “Pretty Hurts”. All the Beyoncé haters need to take several seats at the back of the class. The woman is pure, unfiltered, talent.
What makes the ‘On the Run Tour’ so amazing is not the gushy love songs or the bashful glimmer in Jay’s eyes when he is on stage with Beyoncé; it is the sense of intimacy. When Jay Z performs “Song cry” of his 2001 album Blueprint with an image of Beyoncé in the background, you ask yourself is he talking about her? But even if he is you get a stronger sense that he has been made better for her.
When Beyoncé dressed in a wedding veil, on a small stage at the centre of the crowd sings ‘Resentment', a ballad about finding out her lover has cheated on her and follows it with a cover of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-factor’, you have entered the Carter household. Jay Z is vulnerable, supportive, and sometimes caught blushing at Beyoncé.
The Carters do more than roll down the partition, or put the love on top, they also have the difficult conversations that every couple must have if they hope to make it. The show is an intimate one with Jay Z and Beyoncé revealing long guarded footage from their wedding; intimate times of Beyoncé being pregnant, and home videos with Blue Ivy. We see a photoshoot with Jay Z wrapping his arms around a pregnant Beyoncé. With all the pressure that comes with being the current King and Queen of Hip Hop, The Carters have managed to carve out an actual relationship, and celebrate it. In a world where social media has made it trendy to hide your relationship, The Carters remind us that there is a distinct difference between being private and celebrating love.
The end of the show was moving and poetic. Jay carries his wife to the centre of the crowd and says, “We celebrate love tonight”. The couple performs “Young Forever” together while images of their marriage and family play across the screen. They then turn to face the screen singing “Halo” to images of Blue Ivy. The show was closed with “Lift Off”. Beyonce asks the crowd to applaud Mr. Carter and he, in turn asks them to applaud Mrs. Carter.
The Carter Experience is worth every dollar. Between the two artists, there are 17 solo albums, choosing the right songs, and presenting them with ease was not going to be easy, and this was planned to perfection.
So, On the Run Tour II? Yes, please.