Given the fortnight she has just had, it would have been understandable if Beyonce Knowles found it difficult to muster the necessary adrenalin for this British leg of her current tour. An arena in Liverpool – one that looks much like any other arena in any other town – must have been little match for the triumphant evening she enjoyed a few nights previously as the MTV Europe Music Awards. At the Berlin ceremony, the singer gave thanks for her triple prize-winning achievement by donning an eye-popping red basque and suspenders for her performance of Sweet Dreams. Had the Islamic conservatives of North Africa – where she had played a few days previously – seen that coming, you wonder what action they might have taken. As it was, the singer’s recent Egyptian show went ahead in spite of strenuous protests and a formal complaint to the Government from Muslim Brotherhood party lawmaker Hamdi Hassan, denouncing what it felt was no better than an “insolent sex party”.
For the mixture of glammed-up twentysomething women and their rugged male partners who filed into the Echo Arena, you suspected that the promise of an insolent sex party was instrumental to their decision to come here in the first place. Beyonce may rarely stray beyond the demure side of a line that separates her from, say, Madonna or Britney Spears, but never let it be said that she isn’t aware of her assets. For a thunderous Crazy In Love, the singer surveyed the scene with an imperious Amazonian air. If a gold leotard, adorned at the back with a huge ribbon tail conspired to make her look like a futuristic Cadbury’s Caramel bunny, it wasn’t a problem. In fact, very little of what ensued could be in any way construed as a problem. For the opening section of the show, her thirteen piece all female backing group Suga Mama hammered out riotously funky arrangements of the songs attributed to the eponymous alter ego of the singer’s I Am… Sasha Fierce album, occasionally filling in during the singer’s costume changes like an unfeasibly funky version of the Greek chorus of mice from Bagpuss. But whilst their presence was undoubtedly felt, it was clinically impossible to avert your gaze away from Beyonce for more than a few seconds. Accompanied by her dancers on what could only be termed a prolonged act of stunt pilates, she was mesmerizing on the spare snake-charmer funk of Naughty Girl whilst on Freakum Dress, she appeared to lose herself entirely, falling prostrate onto the ground as her guitarist unleashed a guitar solo of Hendrix-like grubbiness. Outfits were changed with brisk regularity, but the lack of coverage on those toned colonnades that pass for legs was a constant.
Resting her saucy alter ego to deliver the wedding day power balladry of Ave Maria, the singer stood still at the centre of the stage, the emotional power of the song ever so slightly dented by the stagehands to came on to fix on her wedding outfit, seemingly dressed as the sperm from Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask. Whilst it seemed harsh to begrudge her the opportunity to show us the real her – not least on a funkier reconfiguration of If I Were A Girl – there was no denying the communal surge of excitement when her Sasha Fierce alter ego returned to inhabit a succession of hit singles the singer’s time in Destiny’s Child. Hoisted up into the air, she alighted on a mini-stage in the centre of the audience to deliver an incendiary medley of Bug-A-Boo and Bootylicious. Following through with a full-length version of Say My Name, she was all but drowned out by the surrounding throng.
As a parting shot, the totemic rump-slapping freakout of Single Ladies was all the better for its inevitability. Beyonce looked positively predatory as, flanked by her dancers, she perfectly reproduced the dance moves that have long since conferred immortality on the song’s accompanying video. Better still, showing impeccable manners, she pretended not to notice when an arena full of women attempted to copy those same moves.