It was clear from the start that the sold-out crowd at the Superdome Sunday night was there to see one woman and one woman only on the last night of the Essence Festival: Beyoncé. They were happy to check out the starting lineup of Janelle Monae and TGT (Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank’s group) but it was the Mrs. Carter show that had expectations running high. And per her usual A-game performance, Beyoncé did not disappoint.
Her 90-minute show had the kind of big stadium scope that some of the festival’s other main stage acts lacked, including pyrotechnics, multiple costume changes and big dance numbers. Part of that big production delayed the concert start as the video screen displays required prolonged adjustment, but when Beyoncé came on the stage with “Run the World,” the stadium was ready for their queen to hold court. She radiated female empowerment, with her all female band and a predominantly female crew of dancers (her French dancers Les Twins are the only males on tour). She launched into her a mostly strident and aerobic show, all performed in killer heels of course, running through “If I were a Boy,” “Get Me Bodied,” “Naughty Girl,” “I Care,” Why Don’t You Love Me,” “1+1” (sultrily performed on top of a piano), “Irreplaceable,” “Love on Top,” “Crazy in Love,” “Single Ladies,” and “Grown Woman.” Her encore began with the chorus of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and led into “Halo.”
Throughout the show, interstitial clips of Beyoncé in various states played on the big screens– from a Queen of Versailles-type of set-up to highlights from her real life, all playing to the duality of Beyoncé’s image as larger-than-life superstar and regular girl we know and love. The singer expressed joy at being back in New Orleans and in the stadium where she performed the Super Bowl halftime show, all while letting the crowd know that she wanted them to get even more hyped, noting by the end of the show that “it took me a while to get you here,” but they were finally pumped enough for her satisfaction.
Earlier in the evening, Monae, hair in her recognizable pompadour and wearing a familiar white shirt, white pants and black riding boots outfit, played a set filled with tributes to some of her influences, including two different Prince covers (“Take Me With You,” “Let’s Go Crazy”). She belted out a couple of songs from old albums for the faithful (like “Cold War”) but steered clear of anything too recent, such as “Dance Apocalyptic,” which she released the video for last week. Monae did play her most familiar hit (“Tightrope”) to the hilt, with the James Brown cape bit and getting carried off stage. She returned to sing her encore “Come Alive (The War of Roses),” during which she ventured into the audience and got down on the floor of the aisle, then rock-starred it off the stage tossing her mic stand in her own mic-drop moment.
Mia Borders, Rachelle Ferrell, Luke James, Tamia, Kourtney Heart, Alice Smith, Marsha Ambrosius, and Mint Condition all played the smaller lounges around the Superdome. But the last day at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center belonged to the all-star gospel tribute to Tramaine Hawkins and Donnie McClurkin, with powerhouse performances by the likes of Michelle Williams, Yolanda Adams, and Kim Burrell.