Dallas and Rihanna have had a contentious relationship in the past — a point she brought up last night when recalling (1) in the 2011 show, where a fire onstage cut her gig short and of course, (2) this year’s cancellation, which led to Monday’s make-up concert at American Airlines Center. But she worked to make sure Dallas fans got the show she intended them to have. With a solid set of hits, RiRi delivered an expectedly big concert that straddled both old school performances and a karaoke night.
After her prologue of “Mother Mary,” the show exploded big with “Phresh Off The Runway,” setting a fast and furious tone for the rest of the night. Her cadre of dancers and her band surrounded the singer in a fairly minimal, but nonetheless, creative set of architectural columns and obligatory pop-star-concert display screens. But they never allowed eyes to be taken off the star. Or she wouldn’t. And couldn’t. Rihanna seemed to strive hard to win Dallas over and the screams were likely proof she did. The energy from the opening track to “Cockiness” was a nonstop flurry of clipped hits that was both thrilling and disappointing.
Often, she would edit her songs down to (perhaps) manage a quicker flow of her 23-song pre-encore set list, but nonetheless, it felt at times like a convenient medley. This reflects Rihanna’s pop expertise. She’s become a megastar through some respectable talent but more so through a blatant use of force. Seven albums in seven years, constant tours, her new Styled to Rock show on Bravo and that relentless media display of her 777 Tour last year, Rihanna knows that she needs to punch hard to be big and that first act of last night’s show was that on huge display.
But when she stepped away from being Rihanna The Product, she had genuine, even surprising moments that revealed the star she could truly be. Although merely a set-up, her opener “Mother Mary,” with just her on the stage is her frankness about fame. A haunting track where she admitted never thought this many people / would even know my name is one of the most confessional lines in pop and her voice extended that notion through the almost-capacity crowd.
She took the crowd to church as she winded the set down with her dance hits and again, she broke from both her brand and her fuck-it-all attitude. As the first notes of “We Found Love” chimed in, the grooves burst into jams and she enveloped herself in the blasting vibes of the track followed by “S&M,” “Only Girl (In the World)” and “Where Have You Been.” If even an expected move, the suite of songs were akin to a gay dance floor times infinity.
Unfortunately, she’s a fan of the backing track and didn’t shy away from not singing — while still “singing.” As she had even on her small and mid-size venue 777 tour, she would often let the mike drop to either pose or dance in hits like “Umbrella” and “You Da One.” That disregard though was so painfully obvious in her ballads where she practically refused to belt out the majorly dramatic chorus of “What Now,” her upcoming single of Unapologetic. If last night was Rihanna-karaoke, then the entire night would have been stellar.
At 25, Rihanna controlled the stage with rebellious poise. With cameras on her at all times, she almost doesn’t have a bad angle. She’s a stunning woman and can seduce both the stage audience and the camera at the same time. Rihanna then turned that into the party girl she needed to be to wrap the audience up into the show. Although a somewhat pseudo-show at times, she won her way back into Dallas’ graces without being unapologetic (see what I did there) for previous snafus. But when she returned for her one-two punch encore of “Stay” and “Diamonds,” all was forgiven and the crowd chorus wasn’t just a sing along, it was an embrace.
2 Chainz kept the fanfare on low but was nonetheless a monster onstage. Relying on the power of tracks like “Riot” and “I’m Different,” and rousing the crowd even more with “Beez in the Trap,” Chainz’s set had the polish of a pro with the spirit of a rebel.