But such is Knowles' charisma: She makes even annoyingly gooey hokum such as Sarah Maclachlan's "Angel"—yes, she did—work. It helps that she's got a solid stage sneer and smiles more often than not—and that the show is such a nonstop rush. A good 75 percent of her songs feature multiple dance sequences, and if anybody is missing a beat, it's difficult to notice. All you see if Knowles singing, dancing, kicking, dancing, dropping her bum to floor and bouncing immediately back up, singing, freaking singing, dancing, strutting, and even getting into a harness to be hoisted above the floor seats and transported to a second stage toward the back of the arena, doing an aerial flip en route—and always in heels high enough to make you dizzy. Your thighs and abs burned just watching her.
Soon Knowles was moving into her back catalog; "Bills, Bills, Bills," "Say My Name," "Bootylicious," "Independent Woman Part 1" all got a brief run-through, whether by Knowles herself or in some abridged musical interlude, and served as a disarming reminder of just how many pop and R&B hits the 28-year-old singer has been a part of ever since Destiny's Child came roaring out of Houston in 1998. So, yes, Beyoncé live in concert does involve a little bit of narcissism: Stands for L'Oreal cosmetics, with whom she has an endorsement deal, were found in the 1st Mariner lobby and brief ads for her House of Dereon ready-to-wear fashion line played on the in-house video screens prior to the show. And during her admittedly gorgeous version of the song forever associated with Etta James, Mack Gordon and Harry Warren's "At Last," archival footage of the civil rights era played on the screen behind Knowles, into which footage had been cut of Knowles' turn as James in Cadillac Records, a video sequence that eventually faded from black-and-white footage of Martin Luther King's 1963 march on Washington to color footage of Barack Obama's January inauguration and Knowles performance of this same song as the newly elected president danced with his wife. Presumptuous? Yes. Pyrotechnically effective? Absofuckinglutely.
But you can make such bold statements when you've become such a cultural presence that Forbes ranks you in the top 10 of its World's Most Powerful Celebrities, behind only such little-known forces of nature as Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, and Madonna. And yet, still, Knowles ends her show thanking everybody in the room—and during her final number, "Halo," actually leaving the stage to shake hands and work the front rows like a visiting dignitary, but never putting herself above the fans. In fact, the evening's highlights were the set's most interactive numbers. For a rousing version of "Irreplaceable," Knowles encouraged the entire arena to sing in her stead, accompanied only by guitar. (Knowles and the full band came in on the second verse.) And an energetic "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" was preceded by a video montage of the seemingly endless homemade versions of song's video dance moves that drew as enthusiastic of a response as Knowles and two dancers did recreating the choreography onstage. And it's little, inclusive details such as that which make such potentially shallow showbiz flourishes as proclaiming "I am yours" feel like anything but an empty gesture.