Blood-curdling screams erupted from M&T Stadium as several people made their way to the front of the stage at the foot of a hulking square illuminated by white light.
Thick smoke engulfed the figures dressed in black. Their wide brim hats bobbed sporadically. With each flip of the headpiece, flashes of Beyonce's recognizable blond mane indicated that the main attraction was there. The thousands of attendees honed in on her as a barrage of cell phone flashes lit up the previously dark sea of seats. After all, the songstress was the reason why many of them paid upward of several hundred dollars to see her.
She was also the reason that rumored notables such as First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters made the trek up the beltway to Baltimore on a Friday night. Beyonce's "Formation" world tour had that type of draw.
As she began to perform her hit single "Formation" among the boisterous and enthusiastic shouts of encouragement and chants, Beyonce reinforced the fact that she is the epitome of performer.
Fierce choreography performed in unison with 20 backup dancers? Check! Ad-worthy hair, makeup and more than a half dozen costume changes — all beyond reproach? Absolutely. Connection with the crowd? There was never a doubt.
The Houston-native made sure her concert was loaded down with all the bells and whistles. And in doing so, the performance lived up to her epic appearances at the Super Bowl, and various awards shows and specials. Mrs. Carter proved once again that she is one of — if not the top — pop performers in the world.
But, with this tour, Beyonce pushed beyond her usual pop predilections and added an in-your-face, unapologetically black edge that fans haven't seen from her.
You saw it in "Formation," which visually pays homage to the Black Power movement of the sixties. (Her backup dancers wore their hair in tighter, natural curls to resemble Afros.)
You could see it throughout the night when clips from her HBO special "Lemonade" flashed across the four-side screen of black women amid rural southern backdrops. It was evident when clips of Beyonce's family — including a number of videos of her daughter Blue Ivy — resulted in "oohs" and "ahhs."
There was a noticeable maturity in the tone of Beyonce's delivery.
Sure she performed the poppy hits "Who Run The World (Girls)," " Ring the Alarm" and "Crazy in Love."
But she also sprinkled in songs with deeper meaning such as "Sorry," which dealt with infidelity and "All Night Long," which she told the crowd talks about foreignness, redemption and "the light at the end of all the craziness."
What struck me most about this concert was the attention to detail — from the money spent on the set design right down to the costuming, which was done by various top fashion names including Dsquared2. The concert even featured an areal acrobat performing jaw-dropping body contortions while suspended from the air.
What was most impressive was the larger than life square screen that rotated and showed the concert [real-time] on all sides. It looked like it was right out of a science fiction movie. The result was an enhanced audience experience that made the view from the cheapest of the cheap seats almost as enjoyable as watching from the front row.
Pennies weren't pinched when red sparklers were launched into the sky followed by an onslaught of fire bursts leading to the song "Who Run The World (Girls)."
And there were a couple gasps when the long walkway that led to a smaller auxiliary stage deeper into the crowd was revealed to be motorized. The moving pathway created the illusion that Beyonce and her dancers gliding down the runway.
As for her voice, it was solid. Despite two hours of intense dancing that would rival the energy spent during an intense CrossFit session, Beyonce flawlessly performed the power ballad "Halo" at the end of the night. That song required her to belt out notes in the higher and lower vocal registers. If she could do that after all the rigors of her night, she was at the top of her game.
It's worth noting that Beyonce opening act DJ Khaled was a top-notch concert in and of himself.
He got the crowd hyped spinning an array of hits by other artists such as The Notorious B.I.G, A$AP Rocky and Bel Biv DeVoe. He also performed his own hits including "All I Do Is Win." And then he brought out special guests like Walle, Yo Gotti and Trey Songz.
One of the biggest highlights of the night was when Beyonce performed "Freedom," which led into "Survivor." Beyonce and her dancers floated to the front stage and began to stomp, prance and pop over the water covered surface. The result was unexpected splashes of water flying across the stage and into the crowd. Add lighting tricks; the drama of all the performers getting their hair wet; and the delivery of a newer song transitioning into an older classic, and Beyonce was firing on all cylinders. The crowd responded especially well. The screaming at this point was at its height.
This was why the concert attracted the likes DeRay Mckesson (and his blue puffy vest); Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Raven's star Terrell Suggs, who was even observed trying to get the attention of his less-than enthusiastic companion to point out Beyonce and her dancers who were making their way up to the front stage; "Real Housewives of Potomac" cast member Gizelle Bryant who posted a selfie from the concert to her Instagram page; and Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN's show "His & Hers."
They all got in formation for Queen Bey.