Beyonce makes her Pittsburgh solo debut with a powerful taste of 'Lemonade'
May 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Frank Micelotta/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment
Beyonce will perform May 31 at Heinz Field.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You have to go back to Guns N’ Roses and Metallica in 1992 to find a stadium headliner rolling into Pittsburgh with more aggression than Beyonce on Tuesday night at Heinz Field.
In fact, you might want to avoid parking your car anywhere near the stage entrance in case she brings her bat.
Going back to Destiny’s Child, the 34-year-old superstar built her reputation on upbeat dance/R&B songs and swelling ballads, a dynamic that changed abruptly in February, just before she joined Coldplay at the Super Bowl. Beyonce fired up the nation (and riled conservatives such as Rudy Giuliani) when she unleashed “Formation,” a single and video that put her Southern black pride on parade while fueling the Black Lives Matter movement with depictions of cops as the enemy.
Where: Heinz Field, North Shore.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Tickets: $40-$250; ticketmaster.com.
She hit the field of Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50 madder than Von Miller, looking like she was leading the Black Panthers, and between the #BoycottBeyonce hashtag and police unions in the South threatening boycotts, it seemed her Formation Tour might be doomed.
But never underestimate the power of pop — and commerce. Demand to see Beyonce was high, and now she’s smirking at those detractors with “BOYCOTT BEYONCE” T-shirts at the merch table. Formation launched in late April with sold-out shows in Florida and while she won’t be doing Kenny Chesney/Taylor Swift numbers Tuesday, the turnout will be respectable, and despite rumblings here last week from the police union, police chief Cameron McLay says enough officers will be on site.
It will be her first show here as a solo artist and her first time in Pittsburgh since the 2005 Destiny’s Child reunion tour at the Mellon Arena, before she ever did an American solo tour. (Formation is the fourth, so we’ve missed the other three.)
Beyond that, she is only the third female artist to headline a stadium in Pittsburgh. Aretha Franklin did it in 1970 and 1973 (as part of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival and not in the tens of thousands) at Three Rivers Stadium, and then 38 years passed before Ms. Swift did it in 2011 at Heinz Field.
“We always said men drag women to sports and women drag men to concerts, and women don't generally want to see other women,” said a local industry insider.
Mostly, stadium headliners have been Chesney, ‘N Sync, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd.
Queen Bey comes in with more rage than any of those boys, expressed throughout “Lemonade,” which, as they say, broke the Internet when it appeared suddenly a few Saturdays ago, on April 23. Her sixth studio album is a departure from hits like “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” “Crazy in Love” and “Halo,” fraught with the aftermath of husband Jay Z’s implied infidelity with one “Becky with the good hair” — Becky being slang for white girl.
“You can taste the dishonesty” she sneers in the haunting album opener “Pray You Catch Me,” co-credited with James Blake and Kevin Garrett, an up-and-coming Pittsburgh songwriter who graduated from Hampton High School in 2009 and has his own career as a singer-songwriter.
Beyonce’s anger only intensifies through “Hold Up,” drawing from Andy Williams (“Can’t Get Used to Losing You”) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“Maps”); the Jack White-powered “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” the nastiest rocker she’s ever attempted; and “Sorry,” wherein she’s clearly anything but. Even when she puts some sugar in “Lemonade” on ballads “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles,” it’s still startling stuff from a pop star known to be protective of her personal life and aloof with fans and media.
“Daddy Lessons” — a rootsy Southern romp that showcases CAPA High grad Leo Pellegrino on sax with his band Too Many Zooz, which she discovered from their viral New York City subway videos — has a gun that you fear might go off in the third act.
To play stadiums, you need stadium songs, and they arrive late, when Bey puts the gun away and says to hell with the anger and self-pity. On “Freedom,” she regains her personal power and that of her heritage, and on “Formation,” the song that started and ends this trip, she puts “hot sauce in [her] bag, swag.”
Played in full, the concept album would make a powerful theater piece. Can’t really do that on your first stadium tour, though. Last year, Ms. Swift delivered “1989” and discarded plenty of old hits. Beyonce mixes “Lemonade” with older hits, some in snippets, in a way that will still make sense thematically.
The reviews have been favorable almost across the board, for the songs, the energy, the choreography and the fireworks — the kind with a fuse and the kind from heart and soul.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576.
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