Beyonce indulges herself (and us)

The Baltimore Sun

At this point, it may seem premature for Beyonce to launch a summer tour in which she extravagantly celebrates her career. She's only 26.

But in the past decade, the pop diva (and the Houston native has definitely earned that title) has accomplished more than most performers ever do, with multiplatinum sales, multiple Grammys and multiple endorsement deals.

During the two-hour Beyonce Experience, the artist's splashy tour that stopped at 1st Mariner Arena on Wednesday night, she exulted in her star power. The show revolved around her charismatic presence. There were about seven costume changes - most of them sparkly silver get-ups, from flowing gowns to flesh-toned body suits.

And there were plenty of video close-ups of Beyonce's lovely face as her long, honey-colored hair extensions were blown around by fans. Oh, the drama. Oh, the self-indulgence. And Beyonce pulled it off brilliantly.

But her music - consistent, infectious and always energetic - grounded the show. Flanked by a troupe of great dancers (four limber, sexy women and four lithe, muscled men), Beyonce was in constant motion. Her moves were a mix of snake-like shimmies, robotic jerks and seductive struts. And she managed to do it all while singing full-throttle, her voice at times brassy and edgy or soft and buttery.

The packed arena was filled mostly with young women, which makes sense. Beyonce's catalog alternates between vinegary songs in which love is a battlefield and tender tunes driven by wide-eyed passion.

But in all of her songs, Beyonce is the unscathed survivor. The men may be irresistible, but, ultimately, they are replaceable.

To further underscore the girl power of her show, Beyonce was backed by a powerful, 13-piece all-female band, including two drummers and a three-piece horn section. Between costume changes, the musicians performed entertaining solos.

From the moment Beyonce opened with a shower of sparks and "Crazy in Love," her 2003 go-go smash, the show was unrelenting but well-paced. She pulled evenly from her two solo albums, Dangerously In Love and B'Day. She also devoted the middle of the show to a long medley of hits by Destiny's Child, the urban-pop group that launched her career in 1997.

But being the melismatic diva she is, Beyonce couldn't resist a moment or two of vocal self-indulgence. The ballad "Dangerously in Love," for instance, was packed with trills upon trills that seemed to go on forever. Toward the end of "Flaws and All," a ballad that presents Beyonce in a rare state of vulnerability, the video close-up showed tears trailing down the singer's face.

The drama would have been affecting had a dancer not come up behind Beyonce, wrapping her with huge angel wings, as a "heavenly" spotlight shone down on the two of them. That surely put a stake in the momentum.

The star soon morphed into super club queen, turning the arena into a sweaty dance floor as she called out dance moves during "Get Me Bodied." "Do an old-school dance, do an old-school dance," she chanted.

At the end of the show, Beyonce was the gracious diva, commanding the house to sing "Irreplaceable" as she strolled the stage in a gauzy silver gown, smiling and pointing out fans. "I see you," she said, waving, blowing kisses and seeming to love being where she was.

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