For all the reports of trouble in their marriage, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s joint On The Run II tour, which opened in Cardiff on Wednesday, was a two-and-half hour display of affection.
As they raced through more than 40 hits – from Crazy In Love to 99 Problems – the couple flirted, teased and held hands – not just when the spotlights were on, but deep in the shadows, between the songs.
At one point, Beyoncé sidled up to her Jay-Z and started twerking, giving him the giggles. When he rapped about “the rock on your finger” in Upgrade U, she flashed her wedding ring, a big goofy grin spread across her face.
The show didn’t shy away from Jay-Z’s infidelity, which was dissected on songs from Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, and atoned for on his own 4:44, but the overall message was one of healing and redemption.
Stadium-width video screens showed images of the couple being torn apart and separated, their house on fire, before reuniting in a church and renewing their wedding vows.
“Endless love,” read a message on the screen. Jay-Z’s pendant put it more prosaically: “Bling for love.”
“Urgh,” you might be thinking, and rightly so, but the lovey-dovey stuff was just a backdrop to the night’s soundtrack: A thrilling joyride through the stars’ back catalogues that covered feminist anthems (Flawless); hip-hop classics (Dirt Off Your Shoulder) and the obligatory display of Beyoncé’s vocal force (Resentment).
The stars traded control of the stage throughout the show, which allowed for some clever transitions, as when the Arabian riff of Beyoncé’s Naughty Girl bled into Jay-Z’s Big Pimpin‘.
However, the show lacked the conceptual and political strength of Beyoncé’s recent set at the Coachella music festival.
Where that concert presented radical and powerful statement of black resilience and feminine power, the On The Run II Tour largely failed to settle on a theme, mixing up religious iconography with a confused metaphor about love and crime.
A simple greatest hits set would have been fine – but there were some issues there, too.
Beyoncé unwisely chose to mould her song choices to Jay-Z’s material, focusing on beat-heavy tracks like Diva and Formation at the expense of the chart hits the audience were clearly expecting.
That meant no Single Ladies, no Halo, and nothing from the Destiny’s Child collection; while Irreplaceable was reduced to a one-line chant over a trap beat. Jay-Z also ran out of space for hits like Izzo (HOVA), Empire State of Mind and Hard Knock Life.
However, with up to 60 songs rehearsed for the tour, the setlist could easily change from night to night.
And despite those few glaring omissions, the crowd were rarely off their feet – with N****s In Paris and a funked-up Deja Vu shaking the Principality Stadium to its rafters.
Visually, there was plenty to feast your eyes on – from the how-did-they-do-that acrobatics of Beyoncé’s dancers to the police mugshots of Mick Jagger and Snoop Dogg that appeared during 99 Problems.
Jay-Z unexpectedly had more costume changes than his wife; who used one of his stage absences to address the #MeToo movement.
“Ladies, are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?” she demanded during Sorry, before leading a the audience in chant, the text of which is unprintable here…
By the end of the show, however, love was in the air again. As Beyoncé performed her Ed Sheeran duet Perfect, home videos of the couple and their three children flashed up on the screens.
After holding hands throughout the song, Mr and Mrs Carter turned and held each other, eyes closed and oblivious for just a couple of seconds to the thousands of people watching them through their cameraphones.
Sure, it could have been staged but, for what it’s worth, the lingering tenderness of the embrace seemed too unvarnished to be rehearsed.
“Thank you guys for sharing this beautiful night with us,” said Beyoncé as they walked away.
“It feels so good to be on stage with the one I love.”