Before the musical royalty known as Beyonce and Jay-Z appeared between the cracks of giant video screens, holding hands as they descended on a platform, the words “This is Real Life” flashed to the audience.
It’s a message worth remembering throughout the couple’s blazing 2 ½-hour production, an emotional study of love and forgiveness as much as it is a stunning spectacle worthy of its massive environs.
At the first of their two concerts at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday night (this one was packed to the rafters, but some seats are available for Sunday’s encore) during their “On the Run II” tour, Jay and Bey infused the show with genuine heat.
During the opening “Holy Grail,” Beyonce, clad in a striking white beaded leotard, strolled the stage with heavy-lidded sensuality. She mouthed lyrics as he rapped; he nodded his head approvingly as she uncorked a traditional Beyonce wail.
As they drew close in a near slow-dance for “Part II (On the Run),” Beyonce flashed Jay adoring looks while he gazed at her as if he finally realized he won the biggest prize. Even as they each took a walk down separate lighted catwalks that ran nearly the length of the stadium floor for “ ’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” their first collaboration from seemingly 100 lifetimes ago, the pair simmered.
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While the fun in this show is watching these interactions, there is also a bit of internal cringing because, as the message stated, this is real life, and the Carters have endured their share of personal upheaval.
The realness of their relationship – which, fans might recall, supposedly took its hardest detour during their initial “On the Run” outing in 2014 – was spotlighted about 90 minutes into the show. In a segment that launched with Beyonce sitting back-to-back with Jay and spitting the words to “Ring the Alarm,” the pair took turns baring raw emotions.
She delivered 2011’s “I Care” forcefully enough to indicate there is still a point to make. He responded by standing solo on the catwalk for “4:44” and “Song Cry,” as the crowd held up lighted cell phones. But Beyonce was the KO empress of this round as she sat at the edge of the catwalk in a billowing creamsicle-colored dress for “Resentment,” a tour-de-force of a takedown.
Adeptly woven in between these heavy sighs were plenty of carefree concert moments.
Jay-Z sent fans into one of many bounce-fests with thumping renditions of “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “On to the Next One,” a cool video effect setting him on fire onscreen.
“I like where this is going tonight,” he said with a smile. (He might have wanted to retract that comment after an audience member rushed the stage during the final notes of show-closing “Apes***.”)
Beyonce returned in sexy black to engage in deep knee bends on “Flawless” before the couple presented “Nice,” one of a few selections from their new “Everything is Love” album.
Along with countless costume changes for Beyonce (usually a combination of thigh-high boots and form-showcasing leotards) and Jay-Z (usually baseball caps, headbands or a T-shirt and suit), other visuals throughout the show dazzled.
The couple’s commitment to not only tremendous stagecraft but also cinematography is impressive. Elaborate mini-movies – complete with glimpses of the three Carter children – played after every few songs, nudging the narrative of the show.
Likewise, the video screens that periodically slid open to unveil a band stocked with horn players, the shifting catwalks and the rising main stage that coasted to the back of the floor while the pair burst through “Upgrade U” were all technical marvels.
While fans of Jay-Z are thrilled to hear his nimble rapping, the devotees of Queen Bey also want her razzle dazzle. They were treated to plenty of her joint-locking dance moves, notably when she and her dance crew lined up in perfect “Formation” to grind out the nonsense under their stiletto boot heels, while shoulder shrugs and zippy snare drum accompanied “Run the World (Girls).”
By the time Beyonce and Jay-Z rolled through a final pack of songs that included “Crazy in Love” (cue the horns) and “Young Forever,” it was obvious that their next onscreen message took on authentic meaning: “This is Real Love.”
While the Carters didn’t need any special guests infiltrating their finely honed production, DJ Khaled used his hype time before their arrival to welcome a parade of familiar Atlanta music acts.
Singer Monica was the first surprise to reel off a song, followed by a constant stream including CeeLo Green, Lil Yachty, Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri.
To kick off the night at 7:30 p.m. sharp, Chloe x Halle marched out in unison in midriff-baring outfits.
The Atlanta sisters are signed to Beyonce’s Parkwood imprint and during their 25-minute set, they exhibited influences from Destiny’s Child to TLC.
Chloe, who plays keyboards, and Halle, on guitar, smiled brightly and harmonized angelically as they rolled through click-track R&B songs “Fake,” “Hi Lo” and their breakthrough, the tempo-shifting, lyrically astute, “The Kids are Alright.”
“We are so excited to be playing in our hometown,” Halle told the crowd, which responded somewhat tepidly to local-bred talent that deserved better.