The booties! The braids! The color-coordinated golf/leisure suits! What's not to love about the Ladies First Tour featuring Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Missy Elliott? Well, perhaps the fact that in the huge Oakland Arena you're only gonna see the cartoonish accessories of the performers from the angled distance of your nosebleed seats — unless your eyes stay glued to the JumboTron. But hey, maybe you've managed to $nag some floor seats, the only spot where Beyoncé's seven-plus couture costume changes (apparently inspired by old Hollywood glamour looks) can truly be appreciated. Yes, these artists come with enough plumage and accouterments to make the Taj Mahal seem like a modestly decorated shack. The real question, though, is can they hold their own in a world free from auto tuners, editing, and airbrushing — i.e., in a live setting?
Keys and Beyoncé — with their brands of traditional soul and sexed-up R&B, respectively — are both gifted with voices that would still sound wonderful coming out of a paper sack. Elliott, known for catchy hooks and big beats, may be the weakest live performer of the holy trinity of urban pop here, yet she attempts to make up for her hoarse and occasionally out-of-tune vocals with sheer enthusiasm for being onstage — when she's feeling it, that is. But why wouldn't she feel it in Oakland?
Also, a note to the fellas: This is the concert equivalent of a chick flick; taking your woman to it will definitely score you points (or something). And it'll probably be a good time anyway, not just because of the performances, but because of the thousands of Bay Area women trying their damndest to be bootylicious divas. So even if you can't discern whether Beyoncé is lip-syncing or not from a quarter-mile away, count on the crowd to be almost as entertaining.