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MUSIC REVIEW

'Ladies Tour' takes its time to get going

The "Ladies First Tour?" A nice idea, but it really should be called "Stage Delays First, Ladies Second Tour."

The amount of down time between sets last night at the FleetCenter was absolutely maddening. Something should be done about it if this tour is to have the prestige that it deserves. Either that, or drop one or two of the acts so the public isn't wandering the corridors all night and staring at the hot dog vendors more than the headliners.

It was crazy that the setup time between hip-hop queen Missy Elliott and soul diva Alicia Keys was 45 minutes, which was 15 minutes longer than Elliott played. And then came another 45-minute delay between Keys and the final act, Beyonce. There was enough time to go out to dinner, not just have a hot dog.

Apart from the nightmarish logistics (why not get a revolving stage so one act can set up while the other is playing, as they do at many events today?), the night was quite entertaining. Keys stole the show with her outsized, old-school-inspired vocal pipes and a talent that drew one standing ovation after another.

Beyonce's closing set was a show-business marvel as she was carried in on a Cleopatra-like bed with canopy. She scored with flashy costume changes (glittery halter tops and hot pants), brisk choreography and fast-paced video collages, but Keys had the upper hand for musical artistry.

This was an empowering night for women, who made up at least 80 percent of the audience. Not only were all four acts female (some critics have called this an urban Lilith Fair), but the event was also a reminder that an all-women bill can sell tickets (the show was nearly sold out).

The only hitch for men was that some of their bathrooms were switched over to the ladies. (This also happened during Lilith Fair's stops at the Tweeter Center.)

The night opened with an absurdly brief 15-minute set from Tamia, who gave way to the hyperkinetic rush of Elliott and her posse of dancers. Elliott has written some of the greatest songs in hip-hop and has shown a vital political edge ("I've got a Martin Luther King fever," she raps on her latest album), but she was too much of a party-party cheerleader in concert.

Her half-hour set was a blur of motion and canned backup tapes, as she jumped into the crowd and romped down the center aisle, accompanied by two bodyguards who cut a wedge for her. Elliott reprised hits such as "Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," "Work It," and "Get Ur Freak On," but the set felt too much like an aerobics class.

Keys was next up and was the scene-stealer. She danced more than expected and stylishly conducted her ten-piece band during one number, but her forte was expressive piano ballads such as "Butterflyz" (with a segue into the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye"), "If I Ain't Got You," and "Fallin'." She sexily crawled on her grand piano, but mostly sang her heart out in stunning fashion. She didn't need any gimmicks.

Beyonce was a crowd-pleaser, but not necessarily a show-stopper. Fronting a fashion parade of dancers and a band that included four computer-synth players she hit early with "Baby Boy" and featured several Destiny's Child tunes, including "Survivor" and "Say My Name."

She also conducted a video tour of the backstage area that was hilarious (Elliott was seen munching on junk food).

But, while deadline pressure forced a departure before the end, it was clear that she was playing for second place behind Keys.

Verizon Ladies First Tour

With: Beyonce Knowles, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, and Tamia

At: the FleetCenter, last night

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