Beyonce, Echo Arena, Liverpool

The Flaming Lips, Troxy, London

It's professional and all a bit plastic, but Beyonce still glisters in her bustle

If you were to brick
Beyoncé Knowles into an airtight room with no windows and doors – a disproportionate response, arguably, to her assorted crimes against pop – the singer’s hair would, I’m convinced, continue to billowas it does throughout her concerts. Such is the air of unreality Knowles exudes that her different-sized eyes, giving her a mischievous squint, are the only proof that she didn’t come straight out of the Real Doll factory.

She’s objectively beautiful, without doubt, and an aspirational figure for the spray-tanned Scousers inside the Echo Arena. But sexy? Her own BBW backing singers deliver Diana’s “Love Hangover” with more sass than Beyoncé herself could ever muster.

But she gives good show, in a professional, plasticised sort of way. Backed by her awesome all-woman (and, incidentally, all-black) band and flanked by a frankly average troupe of hoofers, strutting through dry ice with a spangly bow-shaped bustle above her famous buttocks, she opens with “Crazy in Love”, a song which, had she just played it 15 times back to back, would make a better concert than the actual one, especially in front of a crowd for at least half of whom the lyrical tribute to an Anfield legend (“Sami Hyypia’s crazy right now”) has special significance.

There’s a sufficient level of spectacle, with the star appearing on screen as a robo-leopard, getting hoisted on a trapeze over the audience’s heads in a 20ft gold dress and so on.

She has the personal touch too, or at least has learned how to fake it. There’s the faintest flicker of Appletonesque disgust when she first slaps fingers with a competition winner (“Ugh, I touched a commoner!”), but she’s soon in her element, letting them grab her shiny-tighted ankles, and bonding with an androgynous girl with a Beautiful Nightmare tattoo.

As a vocalist Beyoncé is almost as virulent as Whitney, her pseudo-vibrato infecting every X Factor finalist except the novelty ones. The material does improve the further back in time you travel. There are a couple of Destiny's Child megamixes, but "Independent Women", "Bug-a-Boo", and "Bootylicious" only show up the weaknesses in her solo catalogue.

The show is padded with covers, such as Dawn Penn's "No No No", a Bollywoodised burst of Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby", snatches of Alanis's "You Oughta Know", and a setpiece in which this good Methodist girl, clad in a see-through wedding dress, sings "Ave Maria".

Some songs are invested with more meaning than others in this former slave-trade hub. Etta James's "At Last" – Barack and Michelle Obama's first dance at the inauguration – is accompanied by footage of the civil rights struggles and Obama's victory. "Halo" is interrupted by a clip of Baby Beyoncé, with Daddy Knowles telling his little princess he was taking her to a Michael Jackson concert. "That's the night I experienced the magic of Michael Jackson for the first time," she explains. "That's the night I decided what I wanted to be." The song switches into a full-scale Jacko tribute as she urges us to wave glow sticks in his memory. It's what he would have wanted.

The low point arrives with the rancidly reactionary sexual politics of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)". After a montage of videos by fans performing their own dance routines, Beyoncé – who isn't wearing a ring herself – reappears to provide the unedifying sight of a hall full of working-class women being told by their idol that the way to get on in the world is to snare a husband. Put a ring on it? Put a sock in it.

There are two competing views on the value of the avant-garde. One is that experimentation has intrinsic worth. The other – and this is my own position – is that experimenters should remain obscure toilers at the coalface of ideas, bringing back crazy new sounds so that someone else can use them for making brilliant pop music.

The Flaming Lips are that rare thing: a go-between, a band who do the experimenting and make the brilliant pop. Now and then, therefore, they need to make an album like Embryonic, their current collection of frazzled jams. You'd listen to the Lips doing this sort of thing sooner than anyone else, but one hopes they're just recharging their batteries to come back with the mother of all mind-blowing future-pop masterpieces.

Nevertheless, Wayne Coyne is a man who instinctively understands that a rock concert is about communal catharsis and euphoria, so the current Lips' live show begins in much the same manner as their others. He steps out from what can only be described as a pulsating electronic vagina and rolls over the heads of the crowd in a giant inflatable hamster ball. Then masses of balloons are released; there's a Crimean fusillade of confetti cannons, and the band bursts into "Race for the Prize" while a dozen sheep, or possibly polar bears, dance their furry approval. For the first five minutes, it's the greatest gig you've seen in your life.

Thereafter, it's a bit one-note by Flips standards. As a result, the set sags in the middle, especially when they delve deep into the Embryonic material. The grizzled Jesus of psych-pop senses the energy dip, and works the crowd to compensate.

There's no room for "She Don't Use Jelly" or "Talking 'Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues", but we do get "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", "The Fight Song" and the feelgood finale of "Do You Realize?", a profoundly atheist song which has, improbably and inspiringly, been adopted as the official state song of God-fearing Oklahoma.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test