For Beyoncé, these shows, taking place at the new $2.4 billion resort whose success is thought to be so crucial to Atlantic City’s economic future, were an opportunity to do just that. The 30-year-old singer did not tour behind her 2011 album 4, and these are her first performances — she’s due back on stage Sunday and Monday nights — since giving birth in January to Blue Ivy Carter, her daughter with husband Jay-Z, the other half of the foremost power couple in pop music.
The concert was a relentlessly entertaining, highly energetic two hours. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was also on hand, tweeting that everything about the show was "great."
Catching her breath before "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," the final number, Beyoncé told the adoring, largely female, sold-out crowd: "Y’all don’t know how hard I worked. I had to lose 60 pounds. Tonight, I’m going to get chocolate wasted!"
On stage, evidence of that hard work was everywhere apparent. It wasn’t just the singer’s svelte, post-baby appearance, or her barely-there outfits, designed to call attention to her physique from the derriere down. (Even the black "Freakum Dress" she wore in the song of that name would better be described as a "freakum leotard.")
Hard work showed in her singing, too. The emotional engagement Beyoncé — last name, Knowles — brings is absolute. The set list tipped too heavily at times toward bombastic balladry like "I Care" and "I Miss You," but it also included plenty of beat-savvy, booty-shaking workouts like "We Like To Party" and "Crazy In Love." (in the latter, alas, Jay-Z’s disembodied prerecorded voice was heard, but the artist himself did not appear in the flesh.
Beyoncé sang everything with earnest commitment and impassioned intensity — except when she wasn’t actually singing. In "Dance For You," for example, she did the bump and grind along with a 10-member dance troupe while three backup vocalists filled in.
Beyoncé is no stranger to platitudes. "Time is precious … so love always," she told the crowd in a between-song home-movie costume change interlude. And there were one or two visual clichés: In her rock moves, she tended to face off with a leather-jacketed guitarist who played screaming solos on a Flying Vee like a distaff Slash wannabe.
Investing all she does with fervent belief, Beyoncé makes a musical argument that any attempt to deny her the respect she — and by association, all women — so justly deserves would amount to an irrational defiance of logic. "I got beauty, I got class," she sang in "Why Don’t You Love Me?" "I got style, I got … "
The show nodded to three forebears. "Naughty Girl," which like "Baby Boy" drew energy from reggae dancehall rhythms, included a sample, and a sung snippet, of the late Donna Summer’s "Love To Love You Baby." Midshow, Beyoncé delivered a tour de force reading of Lauryn Hill’s "Ex-Factor." And before "Halo," the show’s penultimate resistance-is-futile power ballad, she turned in a flawless a cappella verse of Whitney Houston’s (and Dolly Parton’s) "I Will Always Love You."
After that, all was left was the Double Dutch "oh-oh-oh" sing-along to "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," followed by a thank-you to Revel. Beyoncé is said to have been living and rehearsing there in secret for three weeks. Revel got just the this-is-the-place-to-be buzz they were looking for. That, and a send off to her fans: "Ladies, love yourselves. Love your bodies."
Ovation Hall seems poised to take its place as Atlantic City’s top large-but-not-too-large concert venue booking big-name acts. It’s a purpose-built theater. Sightlines and sound were good, and the lighting and staging — with two large video screens — uniformly sharp. Probably by design, the bass was literally body-quaking. It never overwhelmed the mix, but I can’t remember such a rumble from head to toe since standing in front of the speakers at a show by low-end rappers Cypress Hill.
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix.