As I took my seat Tuesday night for Beyoncé’s Formation Tour at Ford Field, my mind jumped to the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Dominating the stage before Bey graced it with her presence was an enormous, bright rectangle that nearly reached the football stadium’s ceiling. It reminded me of “the monolith,” a similarly imposing artifact of mysterious origin in “2001” that always seems to appear when the human race is on the verge of a huge new advancement.
It may be slightly hyperbolic to say Beyoncé is a full evolutionary step ahead of the rest of us, but I’m not exaggerating when I say her show was unlike anything I had ever seen. The Formation Tour is an extravaganza of world-class dance, technical wizardry and incredible music.
And it was like that from the very beginning. The crowd shrieked at the very first sign of movement, as the rectangle began to spin and pulsate, flashing images of Bey. Her dancers came out from behind to the first notes of “Formation,” the Queen herself appeared onstage and nobody in the audience could recover for the rest of the night. It was wild and loud from the front to the back, with cameras flashing from every corner and the bass turned up so high I could feel my throat shaking. It felt like everyone was shouting back every single word Beyoncé sang. Just the opening run included anthems like “Sorry,” “Bow Down” and “Run the World (Girls).” Within three songs, Bey had already shot off literal fireworks, when any other artist who brings fireworks always has to save them for the finale.
One of the many things that makes a Beyoncé show so unique is Bey doesn’t need to prove herself to you. She’s possessed by an unshakeable confidence gained from decades of hard work and iconic songs, and her fans love her unconditionally. If you’re not happy at her show, then that’s entirely your problem. Beyoncé yelling out, “Are y’all having a good time tonight?” would be like the Mona Lisa asking if you think she’s pretty — she knows she’s the queen, and she’s performing for her own art, not for any kind of validation.
That’s not to say she’s ungrateful in any way — far from it. You can’t hide any emotions when your face is on 200-foot tall screens, and Beyoncé was beaming whenever she looked out at the crowd — that kind of smile-with-your-eyes you can’t fake. She took the time, too, to recall her early days when Destiny’s Child was performing in front of grocery stores, and she made sure every woman at the show knew how special she was.
“There’s no such thing as a weak woman,” she preached.
Beyoncé is revolutionary in ways both big and seemingly small. Of course, this type of show is unprecedented — there’s a point where she literally walks on water! But she also employed the first Black female rhythm section I had ever seen in a pop concert, a nice change of pace from the token band of white dudes.
And if she wasn’t there already, Lemonade has pushed Beyoncé past the point where her setlist can leave out massive hit songs and still be all killer and no filler — there was no “Irreplaceable,” no “6 Inch,” not even “Single Ladies,” for the love of God. But Bey made it feel like nothing was missing. She effortlessly hopped from hits to major album tracks and back to hits from all over her career, almost turning the whole show into a lengthy-but-coherent medley that occasionally was broken up by dance showcases and video interludes, courtesy of “Lemonade,” the film. With the lack of certain tracks, the concert never quite became the all-out dance party it could have been, but signature songs like “Drunk in Love” and Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” sounded reinvigorated by Beyoncé’s live energy, even though everyone in the stadium had surely heard them hundreds of times before.
While there were plenty of flashy effects and backing tracks, absolutely nobody could come out of Ford Field criticizing Beyoncé’s voice, unless somehow they went temporarily deaf for “Love on Top.” She did the a capella of a Whitney-Houston-esque track from 4 on the B-Stage, surrounded by fans who got louder and louder as the song progressed. At the song’s climax, she repeats the refrain over and over, going up a pitch each time. It’s impressive enough on the record, where Bey presumably had unlimited takes to perfect it, but seeing her do it live without anything behind her, filling up the biggest room in Detroit with only her voice, was the most stunning moment I’ve ever experienced at a concert. It was like watching Steph Curry make his signature off-balance corner three-pointers. As each refrain approached, I instinctively knew Bey’s shot was going in, but I still found myself thinking, “This is unbelievable” every time she sang it. Beyoncé on Tuesday night couldn’t miss from anywhere on the court.
Though the show was so tightly choreographed that there’s no way it changes much from city to city, Beyoncé took a moment to shout out the Motown Museum, which she said she visited while in Detroit. When she talked about how stars like Diana Ross paved the way for her, it highlighted an interesting split in Yoncé’s musical personality. While it’s true that if Beyoncé worked for Motown’s Berry Gordy in the ’60s and brought him “1+1,” she’d get a huge raise; if she played him “Formation,” however she’d be fired on the spot.
Beyoncé has scaled new heights in her career by pushing the boundaries of pop music with her last two albums, but she still reveres the classics. The two songs she told the crowd were her favorites to sing on tour — “Me, Myself and I” and “1+1” — would both sound at home on Janet Jackson and Etta James records, respectively. Even recently, she was able to make marriage feel sexy as hell on “Partition,” and she made country kind of cool again with “Daddy Lessons.” It seems like Beyoncé gets a lot of her artistic pleasure by making the timeless sound newly relevant.
It was fitting, then, that she didn’t close with a banger but with “Halo,” which she dedicated to the Orlando shooting victims and their families. Normally, it’s far from one of my favorites — it’s a little too comfortable on the radio to truly feel special — but damn, Beyoncé seems to live just to sing that song in front of 50,000 people. Where it’s cheesy on the record, Beyoncé’s powerful live voice makes it earnest and joyful and inspiring. If you had told me before the show that “Halo” was her final song, I would have been skeptical, but now, I can’t imagine any other song taking its place.
To be honest, I don’t know what more I can say to truly summarize Beyoncé’s greatness. I could talk about how unreal it felt to be in the same room as a global icon, to gaze in person upon an artist who seemed to just live on my TV and computer screen. And I want to mention that my friend ranked this concert as one of her “Top 10 Life Experiences,” and I’m not sure if I’m that all-in, but it’s definitely a show I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I should say, too, I was almost brought to tears hearing Beyoncé perfectly belt out “Halo” with all she had just a few days after the absolute despair that was Orlando. But if you love Beyoncé, then you know exactly what kind of beyond-words power she has, and I can probably shut up now.
In short, just to reiterate and remind myself that this actually happened, I saw Beyoncé, and I could never see another concert again and still be satisfied. If not fully evolved, I feel changed, and I feel complete.