Concert Review: Beyoncé & Jay-Z – The OTR II Tour in Buffalo, NY

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Widely regarded as one of the biggest concert tours this year, Hip-Hop’s power couple Jay-Z & Beyoncé have embarked on their On The Run II Tour, doing it bigger and better than the first tour they went on together in 2014. With double the amount of tour dates in both Europe and North America, the OTRII Tour has them hitting some of the world’s biggest stadiums, while also dropping some surprises along the way. Since the last time they toured together, Hov & Bey have had a couple more kids, and released some of their most personal albums yet, going deep into issues with their marriage on Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2016) and Jay-Z’s 4:44 (2017). Midway through the European leg of the tour, they shocked the world by premiering the music video for their song “Apeshit” on stage, and released their first full length album together right as their London, England concert ended, Everything Is Love.

While Jay-Z & Beyoncé have collaborated on a handful of songs together over the years, Everything Is Love marks the first time they’ve officially teamed up as a duo for an entire album, their group simply being named The Carters. With their previous solo releases going deep into their emotions, their new album together has them letting off steam in a celebration of excellence, showing the fans that everything is gravy between them. Needless to say, the hype behind this surprise release along with its upbeat summer vibes has made this one of the biggest albums of 2018, and has raised the excitement levels for the North American leg of the tour.

Now midway through the North American leg, Beyoncé & Jay-Z have been hitting NFL and MLB stadiums across the USA. Surprisingly, the only Canadian stop on the tour would be in Vancouver, which meant The Carters wouldn’t be coming to Toronto’s Skydome like they did on their previous tour. Luckily for us Toronto fans, the Buffalo, New York stop at New Era Field landed on a Saturday, and we decided to make a road trip out of it.

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It was our first time going to any NFL stadium, and we arrived to find the locals who lived near the Buffalo Bills’ arena lining the streets and selling parking spaces at their homes, for slightly cheaper than the official stadium parking. You could tell they do this often with the work put into their signage. After checking out the tailgate party, merch booths and beer stands, we eventually found our seats in the upper bowl.

The show got started with sister RnB duo Chloe x Halle, who have previously worked with Beyoncé by making cameo appearances in the visuals for Lemonade, and opening for her for part of her Formation World Tour in 2016. This would be my first impression of them, and their style was similar to Beyoncé’s with the way they could adapt their vocals to all styles of music. Mostly sticking to a pop-RnB vibe, they also pulled out some rap flows, and one of the sisters would often be playing guitar while singing. After a quick 20-minute set, it was time for DJ Khaled to take the stage.

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Not really being a fan of his music, I had low expectations for DJ Khaled going into this. The assumption was he’d be pressing buttons on a laptop while shouting some of his catchphrases like “we da best!” at us, and his set actually started off with a bit of that. He played parts of songs he’s featured on like “All I Do Is Win” and “All The Way Up,” while dancing on stage and hyping up the crowd. Thinking he would be a glorified hypeman, he ended up surprising me by actually getting behind the turntables and cutting up some tracks – who knew he could actually DJ??

Khaled spun some diversified hits with a little bit of something for everyone. He played songs by The Notorious B.I.G., Ludacris, Justin Bieber, and a ton of Drake songs; we’re not sure if he knew there were plenty of Toronto fans who made the trip down to Buffalo for this show. He would also cut songs off to let the crowd rap the verses, and you could get a feel for the demographic with the way the fans shouted out the lyrics for an entire Cardi B verse, but let Biggie’s “Juicy” die off midway. DJ Khaled closed out his set by playing “All I Do Is Win” a second time, and there would be a short break before The Carters took the stage.

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Similar to the first On The Run Tour, which got its own full-length feature on HBO, there would be video clips of the Carter family portraying outlaw versions of themselves laying low on an island, the film titled The Love Story. The first video played, and the Carters appeared holding hands on an elevated platform, Beyoncé wearing a glittery dress and Jay wearing a white suit, with his hair grown out. The platform slowly lowered them to the stage, and they got things started with Jay’s 2013 song “Holy Grail.” Beyoncé would cover Justin Timberlake’s vocals on the song, and fireworks went off above the stage as Jay cranked the energy up with that first verse.

Jay and Bey would mellow out and set a more romantic tone with the song the tour was named after, “Part II (On The Run),” followed by the very first song they ever did together, “’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” each walking down the two runways that stretched out to the center of the arena as they performed. With the first three songs coming from Jay-Z’s discography, another video clip would play with them on a beach, and Beyoncé would return with some of her own songs. They performed “Drunk in Love,” and Beyoncé brought out her team of dancers to perform “Diva” with her. Jay then came back out to perform “Clique,” and the two songs blended together as Beyoncé sang her last verse from “Diva” over the “Clique” beat. Beyoncé would then leave the stage to change clothes, and Jay-Z would get into some of his solo hits.

Jay would do some similar routines to what we saw at the Made In America Festival and the 4:44 Tour last year, starting by pumping the crowd up with “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” He then put the spotlight on one of Beyoncé’s dancers as the Justice sample used to make “On To The Next One” played, before performing the song itself. Keeping the energy levels high, pyrotechnics shot off flames on stage as Jay went back to 2013 with “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit” before bringing Beyoncé back. Bey would perform her song “Flawless,” getting the ladies to sing along with her, and did a dance to her throwback “Naughty Girl” before the beat quickly flipped to Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’.” Jay would spit both of his rapid-fire verses, and also cover the late Pimp C’s verse accapella.

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With 1999’s “Big Pimpin'” being the oldest song performed for the whole evening, Jay & Bey then performed a song off of their newest release, “Nice,” bringing out all their dancers to line the runways stretching out from the stage. Another video interlude would play, and Jay would return to the stage shouting “we’re just getting started!” as he got into “Run This Town.” They would get into some international flavour, as Beyoncé appeared on an elevated platform to perform her reggae single “Baby Boy.” A subtle hint of Jay-Z’s Punjabi MC collaboration “Beware” was played during the breakdown to “Baby Boy,” where Beyoncé got her dance on.

Keeping it international, Beyoncé then performed her “Mi Gente” remix, singing in Spanish and getting everyone to dance. Jay-Z then pulled out his Damian Marley collaboration, the reggae-flavoured “Bam,” but abruptly cut it off as the beat dropped to transition right into the new Everything Is Love track, “Black Effect.” Beyoncé came down to the main stage to join Jay for this song, then took over again with her solo tracks “Countdown” and “Sorry.” She would get the left and right side of the crowd to cheer louder than the other to determine which of the two runways she would perform on.

Jay-Z would return and get the stage to himself again as he performed “99 Problems,” with images of celebrity mugshots showing on the jumbo screen behind him. Now in a more aggressive tone, Jay-Z started to perform “Takeover,” rocking the hook before taking a seat center-stage, and letting the sample transition into Beyoncé’s “Ring The Alarm.” The chair rotated to reveal Beyoncé sitting behind Jay, and she then got up to perform the aggressive track, looking directly into the camera as she walked around the stage. This transitioned seamlessly into her angry Lemonade song, “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” with pyrotechnics shooting up flames on stage as she unleashed her fury.

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After the temper tantrum comes the sadness, and so Bey and Jay brought out their more emotional tracks. Beyoncé would perform “I Care” center-stage, and this time Jay appeared on the elevated platform, simultaneously rapping bits of his verses from “4:44” as the platform lowered him to the stage. The performance of these two songs at the same time made for a unique blend that worked beautifully. While Jay-Z’s “4:44” is heralded as a great, apologetic song about his marriage, diehard fans know he already made one of the best apology songs back in 2001, and this was the perfect time to pull it out. The stadium went dark, and Jay appeared at the edge of the runway to perform the classic “Song Cry,” with all the fans lighting up their cell phones for him.

Just as the instrumental to “Song Cry” was winding down, Beyoncé could be seen slowly walking down the second runway, where she would take a seat at the edge to sing her own sad song, “Resentment.” The crowd applauded loudly as she wrapped up the slow song, and another video montage would play on the jumbo screen as she and Jay left to change outfits again. Re-appearing on the main stage in matching royal-blue and gold outfits, they then got into their collaboration on Jay’s 4:44 album, “Family Feud.” The front part of the stage would be elevated, and it would then float above the crowd in the VIP pit, taking The Carters closer to the center of the stadium as they performed.

As they travelled to the center on the floating platform, Beyoncé would perform “Upgrade U” before leaving Jay to have the stage to himself when they got to the end of the runway. For the trip back, Jay would perform “Niggas In Paris,” restarting the song midway to get the crowd to countdown from ten and crank up the energy. The stage then returned to its original position, and Jay would perform “Beach Is Better,” rapping about waiting for a woman to get ready for an event as we waited for Beyoncé to return to the stage.

When Beyoncé returned, she would get her own solo ride on the floating stage, except she would bring a squad of dancers with her for the trip. Keeping the energy levels high where Jay left them, Bey performed “Formation,” with fireworks going off behind her as the platform floated over the VIPs again. She followed this up with “Run The World (Girls)” as the platform returned to the main stage, dancing with her squad in perfect choreography and getting the crowd to cheer when that familiar Feminist speech appeared in writing on the jumbo screen.

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Beyoncé would get a rest after putting all her energy into dancing through those two songs, and so Jay-Z would return and perform both verses from “Public Service Announcement,” his own pyrotechnics shooting off above the stage. He would then settle things down, setting himself up at a mic stand and performing “The Story of O.J.,” with the animated music video playing on the screen behind him. The energy would soon pick back up again, as a brass band appeared on the elevated platforms behind Jay, and Beyoncé joined him again on stage. The band backed them as they performed a blend of the upbeat “Deja Vu” and “Show Me What You Got,” two songs that were perfectly designed to be played by a live band. Jay then got ladies and fellas in the crowd to each make some noise, teasing the hook from Memphis Bleek’s “Do My…”

With the band still backing them, Jay-Z gave a nod to his day-one fans, rapping a bit of his first verse from 1996’s “Ain’t No Nigga” before the beat quickly transitioned into Beyoncé’s throwback hit, “Crazy In Love.” They each then took turns performing mega anthems, Beyoncé performing “Freedom” followed by Jay performing “U Don’t Know,” getting the crowd to throw up the Roc-A-Fella diamond symbol with their hands. Things would calm down with one last video interlude before The Carters returned to the stage, mellowing things out with a performance of Jay-Z’s “Young Forever.” The crowd lit up their cell phones again as Beyoncé covered Mr. Hudson’s vocals on the song, and also blended in her own cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect Duet.” The couple ended the song with a kiss on stage.

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To close out the show, Beyoncé and Jay-Z then performed their big 2018 hit together, “Apeshit.” The crowd got as energized as they had been all night, shouting the lyrics and dancing to the beat. Jay and Bey absolutely ripped through their rapid-fire verses, and Beyoncé’s lyric “this is what we’re thankful for” led to her pointing to a jumbo screen showing rolling credits of everyone involved in putting the tour together. She and Jay took the time to thank the crowd along with everyone involved, and let the beat continue playing until the credits finished rolling. With no chance at an encore, the stadium lights came on and the crowd cleared out.

Overall, this show was epic as expected. With all the hits between these two superstars, they were able to carve out a well-executed set list that took you through the story of their relationship, starting with happiness, then getting to the anger and sadness, and coming out triumphant with all their battle scars. They also designed a cool stage that works great for football stadiums, taking advantage of the large space and making it so that fans had a unique view no matter where they were sitting. The only slight to point out with this concert is the fact that they only performed three songs off the new album; it would’ve been cool to see more songs like “713,” “Heard About Us” and “Love Happy” get performed since it’s not often that Jay and Bey tour together. Otherwise, Everything Is Love with the On The Run II Tour, and it was definitely worth the two-hour drive.

The Carters will be making their way to the southern states and the west coast before they wrap up the tour in Seattle on October 4th.

 

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