Bey­once’s Coachella show a marvel

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Jon Cara­man­ica

IN­DIO, Calif. — There’s not likely to be a more mean­ing­ful, ab­sorb­ing, force­ful and rad­i­cal per­for­mance by an Amer­i­can mu­si­cian this year, or any year soon, than Bey­once’s head­lin­ing set at the Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val over the week­end.

It was rich with his­tory, po­tently po­lit­i­cal and visu­ally grand. By turns up­roar­i­ous, rowdy and lush. A gob­s­mack­ing marvel of chore­og­ra­phy and mu­si­cal di­rec­tion.

Satur­day night’s per­for­mance on Coachella main stage on the grounds of the Em­pire Polo Club in In­dio, Cal­i­for­nia, started with horns: trum­pets, trom­bones, sousa­phones. For most of the night, the 36-yearold star was backed by an ec­static march­ing band, in the man­ner of foot­ball half­time shows at his­tor­i­cally black col­leges. The choice in­stantly re­ori­ented her mu­sic, sidelin­ing its con­nec­tions to pop and fram­ing it squarely in a lin­eage of South­ern black mu­si­cal tra­di­tions from New Or­leans’ sec­ond line marches to Hous­ton’s chopped-and­screwed hip-hop.

Her ar­range­ments were alive with shifts be­tween styles and oo­dles of small de­tails, quick mu­si­cal quo­ta­tions of songs (Pas­tor Troy’s “No Mo’ Play in G.A.,” any­one?) that fa­vored alert­ness and en­gage­ment. As al­ways, one of the key thrills of a Bey­once per­for­mance is her will­ing­ness to dis­man­tle and re­ar­range her most fa­mil­iar hits. “Drunk in Love” be­gan as bass-thick mo­lasses, then erupted into trum­pet con­fetti. “Bow Down” re­ver­ber­ated with nervy techno. “For­ma­tion,” al­ready a rap­tur­ous march, was a sav­age low-end stomp. And dur­ing a brief trip through the Caribbean part of her cat­a­log, she re­made “Baby Boy” as star­tling Ja­maican big-band jazz.

She does macro, too: She was joined on­stage by ap­prox­i­mately 100 dancers, singers and mu­si­cians, a stun­ning tableau that in­cluded fra­ter­nity pledges and drum­lines and rows of fe­male vi­o­lin­ists in ad­di­tion to the usual crack­er­jack backup dancers (who in­cluded bone break­ers and also dancers per­form­ing elab­o­rate rou­tines with cym­bals).

Some su­per­stars prize ef­fort­less­ness, but Bey­once shows her work: The cam­eras cap­tured the force and de­ter­mi­na­tion in her danc­ing, and also her sweat. Bey­once per­formed for al­most two hours, with only a few breaks, and her voice rarely flagged. She was orig­i­nally meant to per­form at Coachella last year, but resched­uled af­ter be­com­ing preg­nant; she re­turns to the Coachella stage next week­end for the last of her two solo U.S. dates this year.

“Thank you for al­low­ing me to be the first black woman to head­line Coachella,” she said mid­set, then added an aside in­di­cat­ing such a break­through should have hap­pened much sooner.

She was ar­gu­ing not in de­fense of her­self, but of her fore­bears. And her per­for­mance was as much an­ces­tral trib­ute and cul­tural con­tin­uum — an up­lift­ing of black wom­an­hood — as con­tem­po­rary con­cert. She sang “Lift Ev­ery Voice and Sing,” often re­ferred to as the black na­tional an­them, she in­cor­po­rated vo­cal snip­pets of Mal­colm X and Chi­ma­manda Ngozi Adichie, and she nod­ded at Nina Si­mone’s “Lilac Wine.”

And she ren­dered her per­sonal his­tory as well. Dur­ing the sec­ond half of the show, she un­furled a kind of “This Is Your Life” in re­verse. First came her hus­band, Jay-Z, on “Déjà Vu” — with him, she was af­fec­tion­ate while eas­ily out­shin­ing him. Then, a true sur­prise: a re­union with her for­mer Destiny’s Child group­mates Kelly Row­land and Michelle Williams, dur­ing which she hap­pily ceded the main spot­light. Af­ter that came a play­ful dance rou­tine with her sis­ter, Solange, on “Get Me Bod­ied.” (Sadly, there was no “Ring Off” with her mother, nor a ren­di­tion of “Daddy Lessons” with her father.)

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