With apologies for beginning at the end, there was a moment during Beyoncé's final gracing of the stage at Rogers Arena in Vancouver Saturday night that seemed to shine a little light on the pop diva superstar more illuminating than all the pyrotechnic and light-show flash of the over-the-top spectacle that preceded it.
After more than an hour-and-a-half of bringing it almost non-stop in a firing-on-all-cylinders performance, Beyoncé, saying her good-byes and thank-yous after belting out Halo, jumped in the air and did a heel click. Then she did it again.
It was a much more ordinary dance move than the jerky (in a good way) and precise acrobatics with which she dazzled all night, but the little heel clicks seemed off-script, spontaneous, real.
Also, how on earth did she still have it in her, after flying around the stage all night (literally, at a couple of points) – not to mention all the high kicks, low squats and off-stage costume changes?
In her first stop in this next North American leg of her now months-long Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, Beyoncé Knowles, 32, was an unstoppable force of energy, kicking off the extravaganza of over-stimulation with a high-octane Run The World (Girls); zip-lining over the crowd to an intimate centre stage where she performed a sing-along Irreplaceable and the fist-pumping Destiny's Child anthem Survivor; storming on stage with Crazy In Love, and pouncing right into Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it), the double-shot climax of the night; and slithering atop a baby grand piano through 1+1, crooning "make love to me."
Her hair was long and blonde and flowing in the seemingly constant manufactured wind. Her body was astonishingly athletic. Her voice ultimately triumphed after fighting a losing battle in the sound mix early in the night.
Despite some fuss over the name of the tour – Beyoncé is married to Jay Z, real name Shawn Carter – she authenticated her purported message of female empowerment with a terrific show run by women, from Beyoncé, playing the sexed-up good girl in charge, to most of her dancers and backing band. Toward the end of Naughty Girl, she was joined on stage by her back-up singers, with their very real female bodies – and it was great.
But here's the thing: With a few exceptions, Beyoncé seemed oddly soulless for someone who sings with so much of it. The show is tightly choreographed, but there were moments of pause when she could have done more to connect with the hungry audience than the generic chit-chat (if you can even call it that) she offered: a bit where she got different sections of the arena to yell "Hey Mrs. Carter" in a fight for the decibels. The requisite "Vancouver!" and "How you all doin'?" Blah.
The numerous video interstitials, which portrayed Beyoncé as historical royalty, spoke to the Queen Bey narrative of the night – and most crucially gave her an opportunity to make those endless costume changes – but broke the flow rather than added to the charge. The crowd cheered each time, but I suspect I wasn't the only one silently groaning – not another one.
In the final video segment, Beyoncé shared moments from her charmed life – boating with Jay Z, kissing their baby, embracing U.S. President Barack Obama – and offered what was meant to be an inspirational message: "Love now. Love always."
Banalities aside, Beyoncé has demonstrated that she understands the power of showmanship – whether it's a glitzy blow-out concert, or what's billed as an intimate behind-the-scenes documentary about her life. This year's Beyoncé: Life is But a Dream (now available on DVD!) was showmanship of a different kind – a tightly-controlled infomercial for the Beyoncé brand. It backfired; both she and the film came off as a bit of a narcissistic mess. But the Mrs. Carter Tour is the kind of showmanship that works for this powerful, wealthy (number four on this year's Forbes Celebrity 100 list) diva. We still might not know much about what makes her tick, but it doesn't much matter when sparks are flying out of guitars and Beyoncé, no manufactured pop star, is pouring liberally from her buckets of talent. In person and larger than life, she thrills.
Beyoncé plays the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Dec. 16.