It’s easy to forget that human hit machine Rihanna has been a soundtrack-of-life artist for nearly an entire decade now—instrumental in university parties, road trips, breakups, workouts and, indeed, wee-hour club dance sessions.
Two-thirds of the way through last night’s Diamonds World Tour show at the Air Canada Centre, however, one is reminded just how prolific she has been.
Just when, after a stirring rendition of “Umbrella,” and an abridged ode to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” you’re pretty satisfied with the number of sing-alongs you’ve had, it happens: A rapid-fire peppering of hit after hit after hit, from “Take a Bow” (Good Girl Gone Bad) to “We Found Love” (Talk That Talk) to “Only Girl in the World” (Loud) and Eminem collab “Love the Way You Lie” (totally forgot about that one!).
Rihanna’s countless singles have at times seemed rushed, churned out and overly simplistic, and the same was true at times here, especially during those arena-concert-staple mashups whose goal it seems is not to inspire or satisfy, but to jam as many jams into two minutes as humanly possible.
The staging to accompany our walk down Top 40 lane was simple—minimal set pieces and the odd burst of fire—and the choreography standard. Accompanied by a team of backup dancers, Rihanna gyrated and signature-Riri-ass-dropped (you know the one: knees splayed, coy side smile) from one end of the stage to the next, wearing a variety of figure-showcasing costumes, each as different in style (red Grecian gown, sparkly silver minidress, upper-thigh-high boots paired with undies and T-shirt) as her songs are in genre (reggae, dance, dubstep). One would not know her outfits all came from the same show; but then, the songs on Rihanna’s albums often have the same issue.
It’s true, Rihanna’s concert is not of the theatrical Madonna/Beyoncé/Gaga variety. But she is, indeed, a rock star, as demonstrated by her inspired—frankly, mesmerizing—air guitar to cap off “Rockstar 101.” Once it got past the obligatory showcasing of her most recent album, the good-but-not-great Unapologetic, the show rarely lulled. She successfully delighted for nearly two hours with a strong (if oft backed up) singing voice, decent moves, and a seemingly genuine appreciation for the crowd and Toronto.
What sets Rihanna apart from her peers, performance-wise, is her naked emotion. She’s at her best when performing personal material, as evidenced by her penultimate song, “Stay,” a repeat of her Grammy performance. Chris Brown wasn’t in the front row last night, but the song written about him was just as powerful as back in February. Rihanna is raw, controversial and complicated, and in moments like this, has the ability to convey and convince us of her humanity, flaws and all. Unlike with Robo Britney or SuperWoman Beyoncé, one walks away from a Rihanna show thinking they might know her… a little bit.
That, and the girl has got that thing. You cannot tear your eyes away from her. And it’s a beautiful show.
Psssst: There was more than one show at the ACC las night.
If one music editor was (way) more excited to see Rihanna’s opener, hip-hop’s current prince and fashion It boy A$AP Rocky, she was sadly among the few. Rocky deserved so much more after exploding with the thunderclaps of his anthem/studio album opener, “Long Live A$AP,” than a semi-interested and half-filing-in crowd. If he felt any indifference, however, he did not let it show, beaming those pretty-boy pearly whites and belting both early mixtape (“Trilla,” “Peso”) and current album (“Fashion Killa,” “Wild for the Night, “Fucking Problems”) smashes. Oscillating between his signatures—one minute dazzling with crazy-quick wordplay and impeccable diction; slowing down the next with woozier rhymes and chopped-up, Southern sounds; and all the while being joyfully profane and self-congratulatory—Rocky gave a glimpse of what could be an impressive full-length show. Maybe next year, with a different crowd.