CINCINNATI — The typical reasons people go to see an artist in concert can certainly be applied to Jay Z and Beyoncé. Each one of them is a titanic figure in pop music. Each one has a ton of hits to his or her name. Each one has attained such a huge following that either could sell out an arena with little effort.
But for their "On the Run" tour, it's not just the combining of their musical catalogs, talents and fan bases that helped pack tens of thousands all the way up into the very top rafters at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on Saturday night, it was something extra: the fact that they are one of music's most fascinating power couples.
Since Jay Z and Beyoncé first got together, many have wanted to get an inside look at their lives. The "On the Run" tour gave fans a little bit of that, but what it mostly delivered was a massive production, a jam-packed, tightly constructed set list and some cinematic flourish that provided the crowd with more than enough exhilarating moments, no matter who it was they came to see.
Considering the two artists are often considered fashion icons, it was only fitting that they went on fashionably late. The 8 p.m. start time got pushed back to 9 p.m. the day of the show, but things didn't kick off until around 9:30. This provided plenty of time for members of the crowd to play "oh, look what he/she is wearing," since some of Jay Z or Beyoncé's more fashion-conscious fans planned out their outfits days, if not weeks, in advance.
The show began with a one of the couple's first musical collaborations with 03 Bonnie & Clyde and was accompanied by the On the Run film, a crime drama/love story starring the two artists that would play periodically on the stage’s giant screens throughout the two-hour-plus concert. It was a mix of old Tinseltown glamour and different film genres that looked just as flashy and expensive as almost anything you'll see in theaters this summer.
After the opening number, the two artists gave a glimpse of what this collaboration would look and sound like, with the two sharing the stage with palpable chemistry for a pair of Beyoncé smashes, Upgrade U and Crazy in Love, that immediately led into the Jay Z hit Show Me What You Got. During a set list that featured either full-length versions, snippets or remixes of upwards of 40 songs, it was the moments when the two artists bounced back and forth between each other's hits that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The bounce of Jay's Tom Ford would segue into the militant rush of Beyoncé's Run the World. Jay's verse on the electric ... In Paris from his collaboration with Kanye West on Watch the Throne quickly cut to Beyoncé's Single Ladies — a moment that proved hard to top. Many of these were totally seamless, as if the entire set of music was being manned by a skilled DJ, which is even more impressive when you factor in the shifting, spartan stage set-up complete with pyrotechnics and each artists' numerous costume changes.
Each artist also got several chunks of time to shine alone. Beyoncé's portions of the show were what you'd expect from arguably the biggest pop star on the planet: elaborate outfits, back-up vocalists, male and female dancers, rails, props and poles to allow her to seductively showcase her physical gifts and more than enough signature hair flips and gyrations. Her songs spanned her entire solo career but leaned heavily on her latest self-titled album, whether it was the empowering sass of Flawless and Bow Down or the carnality of Yonce and Partition. Musically, the highlights of her performance were relatively simple showcases of her distinctive and incredible voice, whether she slowed things down for the soulful ballad Why Don't You Love Me? or showed off her range with every key change in the bouncy, Michael Jackson-indebted Love on Top.
You could make the argument that most of those in attendance were there for Beyoncé, but it was Jay Z who had everyone in his hand by the end of the night. Whereas Bey rarely addressed the audience and would make them go nuts by a mere hip swivel or intense stare, Jay frequently shouted out to the Ohio crowd and played to them with equal parts bravado and charisma, performing newer material from Magna Carta Holy Grail while diving as far back as the late '90s and '00s to deliver earlier classics like Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), 99 Problems and Big Pimpin. He even provided one of the evenings funnier moments during Izzo (H.O.V.A.), which included a montage of celebrity mugshots of everyone from Tupac Shakur and Rick Ross to Bill Gates and Justin Bieber.
Although Beyoncé and Jay Z gave the Cincinnati crowd plenty, they didn't give them everything they might have wanted. Those who may have been anticipating Bey taking the Alicia Keys chorus for one of Jay's biggest hits, Empire State of Mind, had their hopes dashed (although, she did sing Justin Timberlake's part in the Jay Z song Holy Grail). Some of the hit songs by both artists were in truncated forms, occasionally leaving the audience wanting more. There was no encore, only credits rolling at the end of the often insane film shown throughout the concert.
But the last part of that film is what a lot of people will remember. As the concert's movie closed into the two reuniting on stage fittingly to perform Part II (On the Run), it went on to feature never-before-seen home movies of Beyoncé and Jay Z, including their private nuptials and plenty of clips of the proud parents happily playing with their daughter, Blue Ivy, all while the two performed a medley of Jay's Young Forever and Beyoncé's Halo. If you're a fan of Jay Z and Beyoncé as artists, you probably wish they would have closed out the show with something bigger. If you're a fan of Jay Z and Beyoncé as a couple, the ending was just about perfect.