Openings to concerts come no more bombastic than that of Beyoncé's Mrs Carter tour.
There are huge video screens offering moody footage of gothic architecture and the singer dressed conservatively for 18th-century France, sundry pyrotechnics, the unveiling of an 11-piece all-female band and an extended and portentous rumbling of timpani that eventually resolves itself into her 2011 hit single Run The World (Girls).
This is accompanied by choreography that contains not merely the inevitable shaking of the former Destiny's Child frontwoman's celebrated buttocks, but a lot of faux kicking of her male dancers' heads, presumably to underline the song's message of feminine empowerment.
It's all impressively grandiloquent stuff, but when it ends, the singer strikes a note of humility. "I want you to know I appreciate your loyalty," she tells the audience. On one level it's just another example of the standard R'n'B arena show patter that liberally decorates the show: she keeps asking if everyone has come to party, as if some of them might have come because they took a wrong turning en route to returning their library books.
On another, it fits with the controversy that's attended the Mrs Carter tour thus far.
No sooner had feminist bloggers stopped kicking lumps out of each other over whether or not the tour's title represented a capitulation to the patriarchy than the Huffington Post published An Open Letter To Michelle Obama from a writer so incensed by Beyoncé's current live show – or, as she put it, "the final degradation" – that she'd decided to take matters to the first lady herself.
She somehow managed to conflate one of the singer's umpteen costumes, a sheer bodysuit, with child sex trafficking; protested about Beyonce performing not merely in high heels but with her "mouth open" – which rather suggested her disappointment might have been rooted in the fact she thought she was going to see a ventriloquist act – and proposed that Beyoncé's audience abandon her and instead listen to an artist called CC White. An internet search for CC White revealed a YouTube video of a lady performing a reggae version of the Hare Krishna mantra at a yoga festival in California.
Tragically for the writer in question, the audience – 90% female, dressed to the nines and including at least two hen parties going noisily doolally – don't really look like they've given much thought to abandoning the LG Arena in favour of a night in studying the work of a kirtankar.
They start screaming for Beyoncé long before she takes the stage: anyone disturbed by multinational corporations' commodification of pop music might be disheartened to learn that a screening for her latest advert for Pepsi gets a more vociferous response than the support act.
And when she arrives, Beyoncé genuinely gives them something to scream about, and not merely the grand visual spectacles of a stadium show, although there's plenty of that, including a guitarist who solos heavy metal-ishly while fireworks shoot from both ends of her guitar, and a plethora of video interludes during which the singer waxes philosophical or meaningless, depending on your level of cynicism: "You have to fight yourself to find yourself", etc.
Even with the really big hits – Single Ladies, Crazy in Love, Survivor – crammed towards the end, there's something powerful and relentless about Beyoncé's show.
She is, as has often been noted, spectacularly good at belting out uptempo tracks with a rawness that contrasts with the staging and choreography and seems to tap into an R'n'B tradition far older than she is. Watching her in full flight, you're reminded more of Tina Turner than any of Beyoncé's contemporaries: with the best will in the world, you'd have a hard time convincing anyone that a reggae take on Hare Krisha is more thrilling than the versions of Get Me Bodied and Freakum Dress she performs tonight.
Even the ballads are given makeovers so that the energy level doesn't sag: If I Were A Boy is rendered, a little improbably, as a medley with a cover of the Verve's Bittersweet Symphony.
Furthermore, for all the inter-song hokum, she's still a compelling performer. It's hard to take your eyes off her, and only partly because you hope to catch her pulling the kind of weird gurning faces that a photographer snapped during her Super Bowl performance, the appearance of which online apparently led her to ban press photographers from the entire tour.
She dances up a storm, jiggles her upper arms in an apparent demonstration that even superstars have bingo wings, raises a hand to her mouth stagily when she sings the word "bitch". The audience laps it up, and with good reason: whatever controversy she's generated, while onstage Beyoncé feels weirdly unassailable.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © M. Keefe