Beyoncé Kicks Off Virgo Season in L.A. With a Pre-Birthday Celebration at SoFi Stadium: Concert Review

Los Angeles was severely depleted of its rhinestones, sequins and spandex Friday night when Beyoncé fans descended upon SoFi Stadium for the first night (of three) of her Renaissance Tour appearances at the venue. Dutifully attired in their “most fabulous silver fashions” per the singer’s Aug. 22 Instagram post, the crowd arrived ready to celebrate Virgo season and the 42nd birthday of its queen, which falls on Sept. 4, the third night of her SoCal stopover. By now a well-oiled machine, the tour offered few surprises to anyone who’s followed its international trajectory, but that’s only to say it delivered all that her disciples could want and more in a dazzling, virtuoso display of spectacle, and more importantly, talent.

Beyoncé has famously served as her own opening act — shrewdly warming up the crowd (and possibly her peerless vocal chords) with a curated selection of ballads — but Los Angeles is too replete with talent for her not to call in a pinch hitter as a warmup: DJ Khaled. Following a mix of club bangers (Fatman Scoop’s “Be Faithful,” etc.), Khaled summoned a murderer’s row of chart-toppers that included 2 Chainz, who appropriately performed “Birthday Song,” as well as Wiz Khalifa, Roddy Rich, Coi Leray, Offset and Lil Wayne. Through no fault of his own — his mic was uncooperative — Wayne didn’t end up getting to perform, but he proved gracious nonetheless as Khaled’s preamble to the main event came to a close.

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The Renaissance Tour began in earnest with “Dangerously In Love 2,” the perfect in-person introduction to everything that makes Beyoncé the “Queen Bey.” Statuesque in a black and gold dress, her sheer presence was commanding, but the song showcased her power, precision and control as a singer all at once. “Flaws and All,” which followed, set the stage — literally and figuratively — for the musical accompaniment that supported her for the next two and a half hours, as Diamond Johnson produced a cavernous drum sound that later nimbly transitioned into funk, hip-hop, house and techno, but here set a backing beat that her brass players exploited for an echo of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love.”

Subsequently, a version of “1+1” offered the evening’s “couples skate” moment, especially as she quickly segued into an understated cover of “I’m Goin’ Down” that didn’t aim to compete with Mary J. Blige’s definitive rendition. “I Care” and its panorama of emotion followed before the conclusion of her “opening act” section of the show, a performance of “River Deep, Mountain High” that she dedicated to the late Tina Turner. Though she later offered more than a few belt-it-to-the-rafters moments, the comparatively static choreography here let her and the audience both get their bearings before she throttled them with the other “half” of her undeniable skillset, her showmanship.

Broken into sections (“Renaissance,” “Motherboard,” “Opulence,” “Anointed,” etc.), Beyoncé’s latest album proved to be a perfect spine on which to graft highlights from the rest of her career, while the ingenious pacing of audiovisual interludes — offering her time for rest and costume changes and bathroom breaks for ticket buyers — also conveyed the tone and energy of the music selected for each mini-set. Starting with the over-arching premise of “Virgo season in a house of chrome,” she got refashioned on the massive digital backdrop into a rocket-piloting metallic vixen out of the pin-up artwork of Hajime Sorayama, leading the audience into the Kubrickian imagery of a pair of spread legs which she, her band and her backing dancers emerged from as if they were being birthed for the express purpose of entertaining.

Entertain they did, through three cuts from “Renaissance,” a diversion through her “Watch The Throne” cameo “Lift Off,” and a few seconds of “7/11,” the latter of which introduced Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, sibling dancers better known as “Les Twins.” Yet what quickly emerged as highlights were the smaller choices and more idiosyncratic moments, such as during “Cozy” when Beyoncé, standing between mirror frames attached to pneumatic arms, shifted and danced in perfect choreography with them; and in the introduction to “Motherboard,” where the music shuffled through Chuck Roberts’ iconic “let there be house!” monologue before mixing in Cajmere’s “Percolator.”

“Energy” marked the moment when Beyoncé crossed the threshold into “Club Renaissance,” the runway that leads to a central performance area, ahead of “Break My Soul,” which for my money was the number of the night. Building out the “Renaissance” single with melodies from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” and somewhat inevitably the “Queens Remix” of the song that interpolates Madonna’s “Vogue,” Beyoncé leaned into its roll call of black women for an explosive showstopper of a sequence — which notably included Lizzo after she was temporarily removed at earlier shows. Given that Khaled had earlier instructed the crowd to put their hands up to signify that they still love Jackson, the fact that they almost unanimously did, and no one balked at the appearance of Lizzo’s name, suggested that the lure of great music outweighed political concerns — or at least drowned out dissenting voices in the crowd — on Friday evening.

It was during the “Opulence” section of the evening that Beyoncé focused on older hits and some outliers, such as “Black Parade” from her soundtrack for “The Lion King.” This was also when Knowles-Carter’s daughter Blue Ivy joined her for two numbers, “Parade” and “My Power.” Though she’s still getting her footing with the kind of elaborate choreography synonymous with her mother, the young woman donned a sparkly t-shirt bearing the site of the concert — Los Angeles — and made her mother proud, whether or not her ongoing guest spot during the tour leads to more concerted efforts from her to perform in the future.

Opening “Anointed” with a costume change featuring a dress whose panels changed colors like the stained-glass windows of a church, Beyoncé seemed to really enjoy performing “Church Girl” — which she paused to encourage fans “to go crazy.” But she made a slightly rushed transition from “Get Me Bodied” in order to get to her ebullient cover of the Maze and Frankie Beverly black-barbeque classic “Before I Let Go,” a bonus track from her “Homecoming” concert album.

“Love On Top,” one of the sturdiest and most underrated of her songs (especially now that she’s in her “every song’s an anthem” era), followed soon after, augmented by the bassline of Jackson Five’s “ABC;” unfortunately, she let the audience take over singing the song for at least one or two refrains too many while she tapped her microphone. But the overindulgence was immediately forgotten after she started performing her first hit single “Crazy In Love,” complemented by backup dancers — male and female — costumed in matching facsimiles of the denim cutoffs and white tank she wore in its music video.

After briefly throwing some attention to the band, she reappeared as Venus on the half-shell for “Plastic Off the Sofa,” whose slinky, latter-day Stevie Wonder “Too High” bassline set the stage for some of the sexiest moments of the night. Performing “Virgo’s Groove” wearing the bodysuit that’s become a tour staple featuring phantom limbs covering her naughty bits, her movements felt deeply provocative even when no one was around; in fact, she drew so much attention from everyone else on stage during “Naughty Girl” that you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t noticed that Les Twins were feverishly dancing around Club Renaissance the entire time. Instructing anyone in the crowd holding a hand fan to use it during “Heated” while she delivered its defiant, desperately relatable outro rap (“Drinkin’ my water, mindin’ my biz/ Monday, I’m overrated, Tuesday, on my dick”), Beyoncé offered the crowd a moment of catharsis wrapped in pyrotechnics, as fireballs belched from the edges of the stage.

“Part 2” of the “Anointed” section concluded with “Thique,” during which careful listeners heard a too-brief sample of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and then the one-two punch of “All Up in Your Mind” and “Drunk in Love.” On the latter number, small disco balls provided oscillating reflections as Beyonce navigated the stage while acrobats — dressed like disco balls themselves — pole danced at the center of Club Renaissance. The layout hinted at what was later to come on “America Has a Problem,” when Les Twins sprinted to mid-stage to shimmy up a different version of those perches, that time swinging and bending as if they were trained by the pole cats in “Mad Max Fury Road.”

Much like earlier, their gymnastic work was no match for the magnetic charisma of Beyoncé, who started “America” from behind a faux news desk reading “KNTY 4 NEWS” while wearing a yellow and black, Thierry Mugler-designed, futuristic “Queen Bee” costume. Yet when she gathered her dancers for an extended version of “Pure/Honey,” Beyoncé generously let them command the audience’s attention with the fiercest voguing of the night: devastating death drops, duck walks, spins, dips, somersaults and more. It was the culmination not only of the evening’s central theme — Black excellence — but of its unapologetically celebratory and inclusive attitude towards multiracial queerness.

Encouraging the crowd to take pictures as she sat astride a giant, mirrored steed, Beyoncé concluded the night with “Summer Renaissance,” not just the phenomenal closing track from her latest album but a reminder that she’s working at the peak of her creativity — not to mention the fact that she promised when it was released to deliver another installment. If after 26 years she has become an actually worthy version of the Poochie (a la “The Simpsons”) of the music world, prompting everyone to ask “where’s Beyoncé?” whenever she’s not standing center stage, she cemented the metaphor by ending the show suspended from wires, flying back to her home planet as the crowd — appropriately — showered her with adulation for deigning to grant them an audience.

Just days from turning 42, Beyoncé has long since demonstrated the sophistication, complexity and absolute mastery of her many talents. Though snippets of the Renaissance Tour, dispersed in clips and media commentary since its beginning in May 2023, issued reminders of her undeniable stardom, somehow none of that prepares you for the actual in-person experience.

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