The closing show of Beyonce's 49-date, six-month long Formation tour at New Jersey's Metlife Stadium on Friday night (Oct. 7) was "something special," as the Queen herself told the crowd.
She was right: Not because there was any drastic overhaul of the show -- which, of course, is nothing less than the greatest all-around musical performer of the past quarter-century continuously challenging herself with Olympic feats of talent, skill, creative direction and endurance. But rather because the concert -- which was inadvertently the finale because it was originally scheduled for a month earlier but postponed because of a doctor-mandated vocal rest -- had an unusual level of closing-night wistfulness even from this highly emotive performer, and took place just across the river from her adopted hometown of New York.
Oh, and she for the first time in the entire tour, she brought out guests -- none other than husband Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar and even Serena Williams.
With a few exceptions -- there was no "Single Ladies," no "Irreplaceable," no cover of Prince's "Beautiful Ones" -- the show was largely the same one you've been seeing or reading about since it launched in Miami on April 29. The fireworks, the 50-foot flames, the "Monolith" -- the gargantuan 60-foot-tall, rotating LED cube at the center of the main stage -- and wall of lights around it, the runway and secondary stage at center of the floor, which transformed into a huge wading pool Beyonce and the dancers performed the last few songs in. Likewise, the set list was pretty much intact: themed segments leaning heavily on Lemonade -- ambitiously beginning the show with the album's two most-popular songs, "Formation" and "Sorry" -- before a closing volley of earlier hits.
But the most fascinating aspect of nearly everything Beyonce has done over the past few years has been the way this artist -- who ranks among James Brown, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Prince and very few others in the way she is not just the world-beating performer at the center of the show, but also the person in complete control of every last detail of it -- challenges herself, less to show off than to prove that it can be done.
Singing half a song while hanging upside-down? Check! Soaring through the very difficult closing choruses of "Love on Top" -- which climb to a higher key each time they're repeated -- completely by herself in front of more than 80,000 people? Nailed it! Singing entire verses while performing a booty-shake that would have most human voices wobbling like a cartoon character on a bumpy ride? Done! Dancing and singing the closing numbers in three inches of water while getting completely drenched? Got this! On virtually every level, it was probably the most ambitious musical concert tour ever staged.
In fact, the show was such a tour-de-force that the Jay Z and Lamar guest spots were a pure bonus. After coming out to a "Give it up for my man!" introduction, Jay was on stage for just a couple of minutes, performing his verse on "Drunk in Love," playfully sparring with and hugging his wife. Lamar, on the other hand, performed all of "Freedom," delivering his verses and smiling proudly alongside Beyonce at the end of the song. (Williams, who came out early in the show, was mostly a symbolic presence, dancing haughtily for a moment before leaving the stage.)
And with the exception of the two musical guests, every single performer on the stage was female, a statement Beyonce made both implicit and explicit: In a non-pandering, uncondescending way she spoke about the strength each woman has, how each setback only makes them stronger, "There is no such thing as a weak woman." (She didn't mention the Trump Tapes, which had leaked just hours earlier; she didn't need to.)
But as distancing as Beyonce's much-ballyhooed flawlessness could have been, she engaged the crowd throughout the entire show, thanking them repeatedly, touching the hands of the fans in the pits on either side of the stage, shrieking with delight when the man to whom she held out the mic nailed a verse on "Runnin'." She was equally gracious with her performers and crew, hugging each of her dancers in turn at the end of the night and thanking everyone who worked on the show -- "every cameraman, every light technician, the sound crew, all the wardrobe people" -- but none by name, because with hundreds of people involved, well, that wouldn't be fair.
And as Beyonce stood at the center of her gigantic stage at the end of the tour's final show -- after midnight on a crystal-clear October night with just a hint of autumn chill in the air -- completely drenched and presumably exhausted, she dragged out the farewells, as if she didn't want it to end either.
This story originally appeared on Billboard.