Beyonce's "Live at Roseland" almost worth the self-worship

Tue Nov 29, 2011 4:18pm EST

Singer Beyonce poses for a photo during an event to debut her newest fragrance, Beyonce Pulse, at Macy?s store in New York September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Kena Betancur

Singer Beyonce poses for a photo during an event to debut her newest fragrance, Beyonce Pulse, at Macy?s store in New York September 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kena Betancur

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LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - No one ever need organize a tribute concert for Beyonce, since she's done such a good job staging her own self-homage with "Beyonce: Live at Roseland," a concert DVD that also doubles as a self-directed episode of "This is Your Life."

The second half of the program, shot during a four-night stand in August, is a nearly complete run-through of her most recent album, the possibly underrated "4." Fan reaction to the record hasn't been as enthusiastic as it was for Beyonce's earlier albums, which doesn't stop her from introducing it (without any real elaboration) as "my most defining moment."

Preceding this is a 30-minute medley/monologue billed as "The Journey B 4," in which the pre-2011 greatest hits of Beyonce's and Destiny's Child are excerpted mostly in half-minute snippets, interrupted by a self-serving stream of fact- and figure-filled historical commentary. It's sort of like the inevitable middle act in a Diana Ross show dedicated to paying lip service to the Supremes.

It's all highly impressive, and almost all a little annoying, if solipsism isn't your thing. Say this for Beyonce though: Even at her most egotistical, she's strangely never less than utterly likable. She might actually be the world's most good-natured megalomaniac.

Part 1 was probably more fun to experience at Manhattan's Roseland ballroom than it is to watch on home video -- especially if you already own a copy of "I Am… Yours - An Intimate Performance in the Encore Theater," a 2009 DVD filmed in Vegas that included a scripted Destiny's Child mega-medley almost identical to this disc's.

In the intervening two years, apparently no one told her she needed a script doctor to reshape a life story that goes a little like this:

"And the hits just kept on coming! But the success just wasn't enough to keep Destiny's Child together… With a lot of success comes a lot of negativity… Now it's 2002, and I just finished co-starring in my first No. 1 movie, 'Austin Powers'… They told me I didn't have one hit single (on 'Dangerously in Love'). I guess they were right. I had five!... All the hard work (portraying Etta James) paid off, since it got me my second Golden Globe nomination… " And then this: "What do you do after 16 Grammys and millions of records sold? Whatever makes you happy!"

Repeated triumphs over show-biz adversity aside, no one will be mistaking this for an Elaine Stritch one-woman show.

Part 2 proves far more satisfying, even though Beyonce may be overestimating "4" as the culmination of her career to date, if only because the tunes all last more than a minute each and there is no further boasting about the accolades she has earned from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Liberated from the lousy patter to pay tribute to songs instead of herself, she is… fairly glorious. Naturally.

Almost across the board, the live versions of the "4" material are more invigorating than the studio equivalents, with Beyonce's's eight-piece all-female band making everything sound like the great cross-pollination of contemporary urban and '70s soul you'd hope for.

(You do have to wonder what that 10-piece string section -- also all-female -- is doing constantly sawing away directly behind Beyonce's, besides providing visual props, since you'd be hard-pressed to ever hear cellos and violins in the mix.)

"End of Time" is a particular stunner, with drummer Cora Coleman-Dunham transforming an already martial beat into something like a one-woman marching band drum corps.

And Bey is at her best on "Love on Top," which takes what is a very tired diva stunt -- repeated octave changes -- so far over the top that the trick officially becomes spectacular again. It doesn't hurt that she's employing her mastery of multiple key changes not on some hackneyed ballad but on a fun, Motown-inspired romp.

"4" had more balladry than we'd heard on a Beyonce's album in a while. Three of the first four songs featured from the album fall into that category, climaxing with the memorable sight of the singer kneeling on a piano top for "1 + 1," allowing us a chance to focus exclusively on the super-humanness of her thighs… and, sure, vocal prowess that seems almost irritatingly effortless.

It's all good until the closing "I Was Here," a self-celebratory anthem that seems to be arriving a few decades earlier than any superstar's valedictory ballad should. While Beyonce sings about the mark she's making on the world, you get random footage of the star traveling the world, admiring a portrait of Gandhi, earning more awards, greeting Make-a-Wish kids, and hanging with Nelson Mandela, Michael Jackson, Obama, and Oprah.

Oh, well. The straightforward performances were fun while they lasted, before they gave way not just to that terrible closing montage but also auteurist end credits that have Beyonce's giving herself title cards as director, executive producer, and co-show-director/choreographer.

It may be up to true diva devotees, of course, to rightfully determine whether all this sweet self-congratulation counts as hubris when we're dealing with an actual goddess.

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