Review: Beyoncé pays tribute to Aretha at show

"We love you and thank you," Beyoncé says, while dedicating Monday's concert to the Queen of Soul

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Beyonce and Jay-Z perform during the 'On The Run II' tour at Ford Field on Monday.

As Jay-Z and Beyoncé kicked off their massive On the Run 2 show before a crowd of 44,000 screaming fans at Ford Field on Monday night, Queen Bey had a message for the Detroit crowd. 

"This show tonight is dedicated to Aretha Franklin," Beyoncé told the fans, following a run through of "Holy Grail." "We love you and thank you," she said, referring to the ailing Franklin. 

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From there it was off to the races for the 44-song, two-and-a-half hour show, which featured a booming sound mix and ran the gamut of Jay-Z's and Beyoncé's sizable catalogs, as well as the ups and downs of their personal relationship.

Jay and Bey, both utilizing 100 percent live vocals throughout the night, proved powerhouse individual performers made stronger by their union. The evening was blockbuster concert entertainment of the highest caliber, the equivalent of a huge summer movie that actually delivers the goods.   

Both Jay and Bey had played the Detroit Lions' home before, Jay with Justin Timberlake during 2013's Legends of the Summer outing and Beyoncé on 2016's Formation World Tour. But they had not played the building together; 2014's initial On the Run Tour skipped the Motor City. 

The power couple began and ended the show side-by-side, hand-in-hand, but in between, acted out scenes and emotions from their sometimes tumultuous marriage, which served as the creative drive for their last two solo albums (her "Lemonade" and his "4:44") as well as their joint album, "Everything is Love," released in June.

Beyoncé singing Justin Timberlake's parts on opener "Holy Grail" provided a telling flip on the song, a dispatch on the allure of fame. But in Beyoncé's hands, the chorus became about the confusion of marriage and the difficulty of reading one's partner, with her singing, "and baby, it's amazing I'm in this maze with you, I just can't crack your code/ one day you're screaming you love me loud, the next day you're so cold." 

Beyonce and Jay-Z perform on the On The Run II tour at Ford Field on in Detroit.

Not all of the material fit as easily into the evening's themes of togetherness, unity, loss, forgiveness and redemption. Sometimes it was just a party, with Jay-Z rolling out a string of stadium-shaking anthems, including "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "99 Problems," "Public Service Announcement" and "U Don't Know."

Beyoncé, no slouch herself, stomped down the stage's long catwalk to "Don't Hurt Yourself," her furious collaboration with Jack White, and teamed up with eight dancers during a triumphantly defiant "Formation," all while constantly being fanned by ever present wind machines.  

The evening's production was centered around a stunning video wall which opened to reveal a multi-tiered stage that housed 16 musicians on three elevated rows, like scaffolding. Two long catwalks jutted out across the stadium floor, and a portion of the stage raised on hydraulics and traveled in-between the two catwalks to the other side of the main floor. Cameras on wires, just like the NFL uses, provided pristine views of the superstars. 

The gargantuan stage gave both Jay and Bey room to do their own material, collaborations and mash-ups of each other's songs. At one point the two performers sat on opposite sides of a rotating mirrored throne, as Bey sang "Ring the Alarm" over the instrumental of Jay's "Takeover."

The momentum never slowed, not even during a reading of Jay's ballad "Song Cry," which was followed by Bey performing "Resentment," a song from 2006's "B'Day" which was given new meaning in the context of the revelations contained within "Lemonade." "Thanks for allowing us to share!" Jay shouted, like he was thanking a counselor for letting him and his wife to attend couple's therapy. 

A song later, they were coupled back up, holding hands while performing "Family Feud." "Nobody wins when the family feuds," Jay rapped, even though the couple's drama has proven otherwise. 

In the context of the evening, Jay's "Big Pimpin'" was a total throwaway; sure, it's one of his biggest hits, but in the narrative of the show it came off as a dated piece of braggadocio. 

Meanwhile, "The Story of O.J." was especially poignant, a stinging commentary on race given extra boom-bap by the echo of the sound system inside Ford Field. 

The couple closed with a duet of "Young Forever" and Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" that managed hammer home the night's "Everything is Love" message, while the club banger "Ape----" sent everyone out of the building with a bounce in their step.

The phrase "this is real love," was scrawled across the video screens near the end of the show. The Carters convincingly argued their case all night, and there was no reason to doubt them or their message.  

Earlier in the night, opener DJ Khaled was joined by Quavo and Offset of Atlanta rap trio Migos, in town for their shows with Drake Tuesday and Wednesday night at Little Caesars Arena. 

During his hits-heavy set, Khaled too shouted out the Queen of Soul, sending "love and prayers" Aretha's way. "Make some noise for Aretha Franklin!" Khaled said while spinning her 1967 anthem, "Respect."

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