FEATURE: There’s No Place Like It: Beyoncé’s Homecoming and the Revolution of the Concert Film




There’s No Place Like It

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé in a promotional still from the Homecoming documentary (where she discussed her lead-up and route to Coachella 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Parkwood Entertainment

Beyoncé’s Homecoming and the Revolution of the Concert Film


I am not usually prone to concern films...


 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

and celebrating gigs because, now, I don’t think there is the same shine and sheen. Look at classic gigs through time and you can see why we celebrate them and preserve the memory. Whether it is The Band’s final show or Nirvana playing unplugged in New York; The Beatles at their peak or classic Woodstock footage, we all have fond memories regarding gigs. Nowadays, there are venues around the world and big artists are touring the world with extravaganzas. It gets harder and harder to select these iconic gigs because there are so many. We stream a lot of music and films but how often do these worlds collide? I would like to see icons like Sir Paul McCartney play at an arena or the likes of St. Vincent and Solange playing. Would there be an appetite for these and would people dedicate tome to watch these gigs?! I do feel like we are becoming less patient and not really fascinated by the look and texture of a gig. We are happy to attend them but how often do we rhapsodise about gigs and how epic they are?! A few days back, I wrote about Kate Bush’s Tour of Life in 1979 and how she managed to transform the nature of a gig. She brought theatre and mime together with theatre and the spectacular. Artists like David Bowie took guidance from her and, soon enough, shows become more ambitious and transitioned beyond mere music.

Have we become too familiar with gigs and are not being surprised? One of the problems is that there is very little beyond the songs and the routine. Where is the explosion and the cast? When do we see something mesmeric and dramatic? Maybe artists have a slight budget but, with Beyoncé in the news, her Homecoming show has got people excited. You can see it on Netflix and her unbelievable set at 2018’s Coachella. I remember hearing the news about it and not seeing anything like it. There was a huge array of dancers and complex routines; so many different movements and looks that made it more like a dazzling film than a concert. You can listen to the live album and hear the crackle and thrill of the performance. Pitchfork reviewed the album and underlined why Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance was history-making:

#Beychella redefined what was possible for a music festival. On stage, over 200 bodies undulated in unison but miraculously, every body moved in its own way. They filled out a set of risers constructed into a pyramid, built to look like the bleachers of a football stadium at a black college or university. Filling the structure was an orchestra that included a drumline and a full brass band that introduced themselves with the steady refrain of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.” Male dancers stood in a trembling line like black fraternity pledges, female dancers dressed as majorettes, background singers formed a choir of unified sound and movement, folding their bodies into Beyoncé’s intricately aggressive choreography…

Beyoncé’s core musical vocabulary is the rhythm and bounce of a tune. She’s a classicist who believes in a song’s structure—choruses, bridges, meticulous verses, extended vamps, key changes. Her uptempo songs like “Crazy in Love,” “Countdown,” and “Love on Top” are some of the most inventive, dexterous pop and R&B music of the past couple of decades. For nearly the entire 110 minutes, she isolates these adrenaline-spiking cuts, amplifying their kinetic energy with marching-band arrangements. The extended version of B’Day’s 2006 single “Get Me Bodied” is a highlight here, as is 2005’s “Check on It.” Both are supercharged booty thumpers, more than a decade old that sound newly baptized in the world of Homecoming: the clarion calls of trumpets and whoomps of sousaphones, the foot-stomping on the risers and the off-mic “ayys” of the dancers that are sprinkled throughout. The arrangements amplify the relationship Beyoncé’s music has to the inherently percussive body”.

The live album is the music itself whereas the Homecoming documentary itself has behind-the-scenes features and gives a visual edge to the gig. Beyoncé has already been afforded a $60 million three-project deal with Netflix following Homecoming. Although gigs themselves are not being utilised regarding film, there is a rise in music documentaries. Everyone from Aretha Franklin, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift has been the subject of a documentary but Beyoncé’s Homecoming blows the doors open and changes things.

You can talk about the sets and choreography of her Coachella performance but there was history being made. This article from The Guardian looked at the power of Beyoncé and why her Coachella turn was more than performing the hits:

And yet, despite her willingness to share the stage, Beyoncé is the priestess, the ringleader, insistent on her authorship of this one-of-a-kind spectacle, which marked the first time a black woman had ever headlined Coachella. The writer, director and executive producer of Homecoming, which runs 137 minutes and was released in concert with a 40-song live album, Beyoncé has a way of reminding us of her unique ability to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, to defy the trend toward cultural diffusion and force us to stand at attention.

So Coachella, she explains, was the homecoming she never had, but also a paean to the rich culture and vibrant aesthetic of historically black colleges and universities, the insignia of which can be spotted on the bright yellow and pink hoodies worn by Beyoncé and her onstage battalion (the film brilliantly cross-cuts between Beyoncé’s two Coachella sets to create an almost kaleidoscopic effect, edited down to each gyration and stutter-step). And even with the relative sparsity of information about how the concept came together, Homecoming is, alongside the southern gothic feminism of Lemonade, Beyoncé’s grandest articulation yet of her artistic mission. It’s a mission so great, she looks to no less an authority than Maya Angelou to put it into words. “What I really want to do is be a representative of my race,” Angelou says over grainy rehearsal footage near the end of the documentary, in what was the last interview she gave before her death in 2014. “I know that when I’m finished doing what I’m sent here to do, I will be called home”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé during her Coachella show/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I guess you had to be at the Coachella gig to get the full effect but the fact we have the live album and documentary means we get a more intimate and close look at this special and inspirational artist. The sheer scale, spectacle and colour one saw from Coachella exceeds anything we have seen in a very long time. I know there are big shows ad tours but Beyoncé topped them all and created a performance that will linger long in the history books. She used her platform to deliver power and passion – this extended beyond the music and provided education, history and the celebration of black Americans: The BBC explained in more detail:

Throughout Homecoming, Beyoncé included quotes and audio from black leaders and intellectuals, and I greatly appreciated the quote she used from W.E.B. Du Bois: "Education must not simply teach work - it must teach life."

This quote was radical and empowering over 100 years ago, and for better or worse it still leaves a lasting impact today. The quote is from Du Bois' "Talented Tenth" essay in 1903 that both articulated his vision of higher education for black people, and served as a stern rebuke to his rival Booker T Washington who advocated for blacks to prioritise industrial and agrarian training.

Beyoncé bookends her film with quotes from authors Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, and their wisdom has always gracefully empowered our community, celebrated our humanity, and provided a richness to our struggle for equality that the world needs to hear.

The significance of Homecoming also is not merely about the celebrated African Americans featured in the film, or the behind the scenes look at how Beyoncé prepared for the concert; but is also about the foundational importance education has always held in the black community”.

There is a lot to love regarding Homecoming: from the stunning routines through to the messages Beyoncé was saying; to the electricity and sheer vitality of Coachella. It must have been incredible being there but, for those who missed out, we have this concert film that will get other artists interested. Homecoming is not a film made by a committee or designed to be simple and short. It is a passionate and personal feature that will resonate with Beyoncé fans and those who love live performance. Another reason why Homecoming is such a bold and vital step forward is because of the input Beyoncé had. The Guardian talked about Homecoming and how much say Beyoncé had:

For critic and author Hanif Abdurraqib, the fact artists are given creative control over concert films – Beyoncé is named as executive producer and music director on Homecoming – makes them more attractive. “Creative control is a major plus for artists now, who already have so much control over what fans see and don’t see of their everyday lives,” he said. “Social media and the performance of public presentation have all blended into this landscape where an artist can truly write their own narrative for how they wish to appear.”

Forde adds: “It fits with Beyoncé’s approach because her image is so complicated and there’s so much nuance in the way she presents herself, why wouldn’t she want to carry that on in a concert film?

“The concert films need to have visual consistency to continue the aesthetic of Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s film is notable because there are moments of intimacy with the star, who has given no interviews since a sit-down with Oprah in 2013. During Homecoming the audience follows her as she discusses trying to recover physically and mentally after having twins in June 2017. It’s the most intimate portrait of her in years – even if every second is delicately stage-managed”.

There is so much to unpick regarding Homecoming and where we go from here. At a time when artists are not using their stage to discuss important issues or truly create something memorable, I do hope that there is this wave of response that ups the game. I do feel like we have moved away from concert films and do not consider them essential. Beyoncé will not change things on her own but she has shown what is possible. Listen to the live album and, if you can, see Homecoming and get inside this remarkable gig. I cannot wait to see where Beyoncé heads next but, with her, you know it will be very special! She has been a pioneer and inspiration since her Destiny’s Child days but, in these turbulent times, her status and name has grown bolder and more important. I think a great concert film can give us a greater love of gigs and the artist behind them. We all attend gigs and get that rush but do we understand the levels and layers involved? Do we think beyond the music and do we experience something truly life-changing? It will be a hard feat equalling Beyoncé but I do feel Homecoming is a big explosion. If you need something to lift your spirits and open your mind then play Homecoming and experience something…

UTTERLY wonderful