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Serious box office: Beyoncé slays in Glasgow

08 July 2016, 17:05 | Written by Andrew Hannah

It’s not quite bookended by the tracks but Beyonce’s Formation World tour stopoff at Glasgow’s Hampden Park hinges on two incredible performances.

Just hours before she took to the stage tonight, Beyoncé was digesting the news that two more black men had been shot and killed by police in what seems yet another entirely avoidable assault on a community which is going through hourly, not even daily now, suffering at the hands of people who are employed to protect them.

The singer posted a message online calling for action, and this deeply serious essay about a deeply serious problem pulling at the fabric of society hung over this leg of the Formation tour. While there were some obviously euphoric moments and songs which tugged at the heartstrings and brought tears in an instant, Beyoncé stood, often alone on the giant Hampden stage, as a figure shaken and stirred into action. A woman already apparently reeling from a disintegrating marriage and stung into making the best artistic statement of her career in the form of Lemonade, her resilience only seems to have been reinforced by the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

“We don’t need sympathy. We need everyone to respect our lives.”

From the moment Beyoncé emerges from beneath the stage, dressed funereally all in black wearing a wide-rimmed hat, in front of a giant rotating monolith which glows red and white, carries slogans from her past two albums and - later - the names of the dead, for the opening track “Formation” this is just a special show, set apart from others on this tour through tragic circumstance. There’s a steely determination in Beyonce’s eyes as the big screen focuses in on her, demanding the crowd to shout “I slay”, the track’s viciously undulating groove enhanced by the grit of a vocal which means so much more tonight. As much is transmitted to the audience in that thousand yard stare as every lyric in that song. She's preparing us...tonight is a history lesson.

Aside from the killings of Sterling and Castile, what's also inescapable is the shadow of Jay-Z and the wider subject matter of Lemonade. A serious cloud of an altogether different kind hangs over the tracks from Lemonade and it's instantly noticeable where these songs are placed in the setlist and what they stand beside. There's home video footage of Jay-Z projected later in the show which is greeted generally with cheers but they strike a gloomy note against how absent he is from this performance. Beyoncé doesn't mention him once from recollection. In that, he’s like a spectre at the feast, with the singer strategically placing “Sorry” next to “Irreplacable”, “Me, Myself and I” next to “Runnin’”, the former prefaced with Beyoncé pleading with the audience to remember they have to love themselves before they can love anybody else.

It’s telling that on “Drunk In Love”, Jay’s verse is replaced by a looping of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. With Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly acting as a companion piece to Lemonade it’s hard to find two artists who are making more relevant or culturally vital contributions to society right now. British singer Paloma Faith recently suggested that artists were scared to make political statements these days – tonight is the best evidence to show that to be patently untrue. There’s a difference between being scared and not caring; Lamar and Beyoncé might be scared – and well they might given what’s happening at home – but they are speaking out and demanding action. From the images projected on to that giant box of Beyoncé in various guises of a strong, independent woman of colour, to the motivational sloganeering to the powerful and moving take on “Freedom”, the Formation world tour must go down as the biggest political and cultural box office in the history of stadium tours. How Beyoncé has pulled it off is anyone’s guess, but she has. Her place alongside Gaye, Mayfield and Wonder as a genius song writer and social commentator is sealed tonight - she is that important, it can't be overstated.

Before we get to “Freedom”, though, there are some less politically-charged moments of incredible joy and emotion performed by the world’s best singer and dancer. “Bow Down” and “Run the World” are exhilarating and exhausting, while the run of “Hold Up”, “Countdown”, “Me, Myself and I” and “Runnin’” takes us from playful to tear-jerking and back again, while previously thought of as album weak links “Rocket” and “Daddy Lessons” somehow became brimful of wit and emotion in the hands of the fired-up singer. A seriously seductive take on "Crazy in Love" with a theme of red was steamy as well as playing on the colour's symbolism.

So it’s to “Freedom” we go; as Beyoncé and her dancers march out on a walkway and stand in, umm, formation, she asks the audience for a moment’s silence for the memories of Sterling and Castile, their names projected onto the giant box alongside, as it says, “countless others”. Beyoncé then launches into a spine-tingling acapella version of the track, sending a chill through the crowd, before lurching into the song proper. It’s the most passionate and important moment of the night, the “winners don’t quit on themselves” filled with so much meaning and weight, and Kendrick’s verse remaining intact. Sure there’s “Independent Woman” and “Survivor” (more relevant than ever) all played, and the show ends on a stunning vocal pageant in the form of “Halo” with fireworks shooting into the clouding night sky, but it’s “Freedom” which resonates - a call to arms sounding into the night.

Before the show Beyoncé pleaded for action, during it she displayed it. Now it’s up to us. Get in formation.

Photos courtesy of Daniela Vesco/Parkwood Entertainment/AP Invision

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