The official theme for the joint Beyoncé and Jay Z concert Wednesday night at Safeco Field was “On the Run,” harkening back to the singer and rapper’s duet “03 Bonnie and Clyde” — a statement of solidarity when Jay Z was a bigger star than Beyoncé (it was his song, technically). Wedded now, they’re both international pop music icons, but the power dynamic has changed. Rap has weakened on the pop landscape. Beyoncé has more youth currency and broader appeal — and way hotter tunes than her husband right now. Since the end of 2013 she has embodied the zeitgeist, owning radio playlists and house party stereos with her risky, revitalizing album “Beyoncé.” The energy leapt whenever Beyoncé came rising out of the stage floor on her mechanical podium, hair majestically blowing back, and songs from her recent album defined the show.
There were flames aplenty, Hollywood-style video sequences, and a second stage in the middle of the field. The program was very well managed, and maybe the show was even too perfect at times? Beyoncé’s voice sounded powerful even when her mouth wasn’t near the microphone. But her furious and intermittently sexual choreography was captivating. Even out of the spotlight she was a physical presence. When Jay Z rapped solo, she danced harder without the microphone, shouting his lyrics into the open air and working the edges of the stage. It was the only major music event in the baseball stadium since Paul McCartney performed there last July, and a spectacular production deserving the venue.
Beyoncé’s new anthems killed. “Drunk in Love” hit like silver bricks through the Safeco speakers. “Flawless” was sneering and excellent; the entire stadium shouting “I woke up like this” was sass en masse. She didn’t do the wistful “XO,” but she did do “Pretty Hurts,” a sad, sweeping song about the damaging psychological effects of beauty pageant competition. Her particular brand of feminism has its complications, but songs like that have a real weight and with tens of thousands of people singing along felt progressive.
Jay Z’s many hits had less urgency. It’s always great to hear “Hard Knock Life,” but he’s performed here twice in recent years (at KeyArena and the Tacoma Dome), and this was the third time he played the same songs. The concert dragged a bit when he featured too much.
Gossip media has been saying their marriage is on the rocks, but whatever your level of interest, it was useless to look for clues on stage. They were both perfectly believable actors. Beyoncé even cried on command during her ballad “Resentment.” Anyway the most unbelievable aspect of their show wasn’t their hugs and kisses, but the elaborate video sequences showing them as outlaws driving fast and out of control. On stage they were both Olympic-level performers, with Beyoncé in particular attaining perfection, or something close to it.