FOXBOROUGH — “Lemonade,” the sixth studio album from Beyoncé, is two different things, at least: a collection of songs written from the perspective of a woman whose husband has strayed; and a “visual album” of short films, which expands the pain, rage, betrayal, and reconciliation on the record outward to a broader history and a bigger world.
Beyoncé’s Formation Tour, which came to a sold-out Gillette Stadium on Friday night, borrows more from the first version of “Lemonade” than the second. The tour is named for the album’s closer, the brittle funk tune whose paramilitary parading at the Super Bowl elicited protest and scorn, but whose core tenet – “I slay” – is less incitement than boast. “Boycott Beyoncé” was plastered on one of the shirts available in merchandise stalls; otherwise, you’d never have known there’d been any controversy.
A solid album from an artist best known for solid singles, “Lemonade” dominated Beyoncé’s set from the moment she and her well-drilled dancing corps took the stage with, yup, “Formation.” When she directed her believers to declare, “I slay,” thousands of voices complied.
Strutting and flexing with militaristic precision, the singer and her cohorts worked in front of a monolith that slowly rotated at times, opened up at others to reveal pyrotechnics or aerialists within, but always served as a video screen. When Beyoncé was onstage, you saw her up close; when she wasn’t, “Lemonade” clips and other videos played just as large. Her crack band, all women apart from the horn players, worked in partial darkness to either side of the stage; for anyone listening as avidly as they watched, the players made no less of an impression.
In and around the “Lemonade” songs — the acid “Sorry,” buoyant “Hold Up,” incendiary “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” soulful “Freedom,” and more — older fare took on new shades. “Baby Boy,” spontaneously joyful in an earlier life, had a stiffened quality; “Me, Myself & I,” introduced by Beyoncé as being about anyone’s most important relationship, had an especially emphatic gusto. Even prideful songs like “Diva,” “Flawless,” and “Yonce” seemed to have an edge of dark defiance.
Or maybe that was all just in a listener’s head after “Lemonade” sunk in? Whatever tension the set had, there also was plenty of joy: in a faithful cover of Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones,” after which the monolith onstage glowed violet as the original “Purple Rain” played on the P.A.; in snatches of “Bootylicious” and Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” woven into “Crazy in Love”; and in Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl,” soon after.
Never mentioned by name, Beyoncé’s husband Jay Z turned up in a closing video interlude: nostalgic images of newlyweds and newborns, overexposed or faded in ways that can only be achieved artificially now. As she sang “Freedom,” “Survivor,” and “End of Time” on a flooded runway, kicking up water as she sang, you couldn’t shake a sensation of baptism and benediction. Beaming before “Halo,” her closer, she exhorted her followers once last time: “I’m just a country girl from Houston, Texas, and if I can be up on this stage, anyone can accomplish anything, I promise you.”
At Gillette Stadium, June 3Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.