fBeyonce's quest for fame seems like it's been going on for ages. Yet, even though her hip-hop natured R&B showed glimmers on the pop ladder, her launch into the pop stratosphere didn't feel official until 2007, when "Irreplaceable" earned a coveted Grammy nod for Record of the Year and became the best-selling U.S. single of the year. Since then, some of the R&B world has been yearning for a break from Beyonce's world domination. Since her breakout, multi-platinum solo debut, every two years yields another new album to the R&B market with hits that keep pouring out - as if the entire album was predestined by the label gods to play on radio. But, as the old saying goes: it's best to strike the iron while it's hot.
Fast forward to 2008's I Am...Sasha Fierce, a double-sided, split-personality mesh of pop sizzlers and disco-focused numbers. The album, breaking four radio gems, including: the unstoppable "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," "If I Were a Boy," and "Halo," once again demonstrated why Beyonce is the Diana Ross of our generation. I Am...Yours, a carefully-paced live recording taped at the Wynn in Las Vegas , may just prove she's more than just a hit machine, but also a consummate live entertainer adorned with a perfectionist ethic.
The double-disc project, accompanied with a DVD of the rousing full concert, repeats the format of ...Sasha Fierce by dividing the ballads from the sweaty club rousers. But it makes more sense and shines with better clarity here, as she intentionally separates them into two live acts focusing on an intimate acoustic opener and a definite closing wrapped up with a nostalgic Destiny's Child medley and a power finale' showcasing her signature urban R&B aesthetic.
Disc One reveals Beyonce in good voice, belting at times, while chiseling away former distractions from beautiful poetic lines in "Halo," "Scared of Lonely" and "Resentment." "Irreplaceable" is peppered with live audience participation and an enrapturing middle-to-end segment that swelled into an all encompassing soulful display. Who could have imagined Beyonce injecting Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" into her "Sweet Dreams" performance? A stunner of a choice that proved apt for Beyonce's distinct phrasing, and just one example of what made this segment memorable.
Disc Two bears a few irritations, most largely related to song interruptions from Beyonce's long-winded narrations and editing choices. It's a Vegas show, and the theatrics definitely work well on DVD, but on a live album the magic seems to dim earlier than expected. When the songs start to fire up with engaging emotion, Beyonce and her accompanying band throw up the red light; creating the ultimate party crasher. A respectable but cantankerous tribute to Michael Jackson on "I Wanna Be Where You Are" opens the set and walks slowly through a myriad of Destiny's Child hits that cuts off very prematurely. When "Crazy In Love" enters the set, the songs get better treatment, harder drum licks, extra instrumentation and ad-lib action. "Naughty Girl" and "Get Me Bodied," additional brighter spots, are thoroughly enhanced. And the departing finale', "Single Ladies," bubbles up with a sweet concert intro from MGMT's dance hit, "Electric Feel," and marinates deeper into a sanctified gospel drive. Some of the talking points work in Beyonce's favor: it boasts her ego (on "Bootylicious," she brags about her Webster's Dictionary placement) and walks us through her championing list of number #1's.
I Am...Yours showcases how great a "greatest hits" compilation would be if assembled today. It adds all the right buzz for a Beyonce live experience. The project still isn't one of the most essential live albums assembled (especially if you're going to compare it with better-organized and easy-going albums like Aretha's Live at Filmore West, George Benson's Weekend in L.A. or even Maze's Live in New Orleans). Certainly, Beyonce's repertoire is vast and super-lengthy, especially after one gathers up all the gems from her Destiny's Child tenure, but live albums usually do better without all the unnecessary chatter about an artist's dominance and fares better with fresher, playful re-arrangements and the occasional bonus cuts. The added strings are a pleasant addition to the first set and the all-female band do a neat job in translating studio sonics into infectious live renditions. Yet, there's still a greater need to revive classics with a relevant update by using a few odd twists, avoiding such obvious clichÃ©s sampling of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing." That missing ingredient certainly would have raised the bar of sensationalism for the double-disc live recording. Nevertheless, I Am...Yours is a bold testament to Beyonce's staying power and her never-ending catalog of urban booty shakers and pop sparklers. Recommended.
By J. Matthew Cobb