Rihanna delivers unfortunate coincidences at Rogers Arena in Vancouver
At Rogers Arena on Friday, June 24
Well, it was certainly flashy. If it was hyperkinetic dance routines, costume changes, and retina-bombing visuals you were after, Rihanna’s Rogers Arena concert on Friday night (the first of two shows there) certainly delivered. The 23-year-old Barbadian R&B superstar kicked things off with “Only Girl (in the World)”, surrounded by dancers in outfits that suggested DayGlo raver gear might be making an unwelcome comeback. As for Rihanna herself, she sported Ronald McDonald-red hair, pink and neon-green pumps, and a blue mini dress that didn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination as far as her legs were concerned.
She lost the dress for the next number, “Disturbia”, stripping down to a bikini that appeared to have been cobbled together out of Spandex, sequins, and liquorice allsorts. She kept that on for “Shut Up and Drive”, which ended with guitarist Nuno Bettencourt—yes, the guy from Extreme—shredding atop a wrecked car, which was further trashed by her dancers. Let’s assume Rihanna hasn’t been keeping up with the news coming out of her favourite Canadian city while she’s been on tour, because this particular spectacle hit a little too close to home. Let’s call it Unfortunate Coincidence Number 1. At least Bettencourt wasn’t wearing a Canucks jersey, and no one set the damn car on fire.
Rihanna disappeared for a bit after the reggae-inflected “Man Down”, while a visual projection served notice that things were about to get a little freaky. The video showed two Rihannas, one dressed as a man and the other a woman, making bedroom eyes at each other. When the real thing re-emerged, she was clad in a black tuxedo, and interacting suggestively with more scantily clad dancers. This included pretending to cane their behinds, which might have been hot if it hadn’t been done to the tune of an ill-advisedly metallic and frankly pretty lame version of Prince’s “Darling Nikki”. This segued into “S&M”, which found a white-corseted Rihanna chained up, and one of her percussionists keeping a beat with a cat-o’-nine-tails. Very kinky and all, but ending the song with a choreographed pillow fight sort of took the sting out of it.
A costume change or two later, Rihanna rolled out astride a mockup of a tank that shot out puffs of smoke flanked by dancers in camouflage outfits carrying guns. The message? That’s anyone’s guess. The fact that all the weapons were painted bubblegum pink suggested some indecipherable commentary on the battle of the sexes, but that might be giving Rihanna and her production team too much credit. A more likely explanation is that war stuff looks cool. Or at least it does until your city is the one that's burning.
Speaking of which, accompanying “Run This Town” (“Only thing that’s on my mind/Is who’s gonna run this town tonight”) with visuals of flames and bandanna-wearing rioters counts as Unfortunate Coincidence Number 2.
If none of the above really showed off Rihanna’s vocal chops in any significant way, a mini set of ballads seemed designed to do so. Unfortunately, it also dragged the concert into a low-energy lull from which it never fully recovered. “Unfaithful” is a decent piece of melodrama, but “Hate That I Love You” is unmemorable and “California King Bed” merely gave Bettencourt an excuse for an overblown wank session.
And that’s kind of the problem with Rihanna in general: as appealing a performer as she is, she doesn’t have quite enough first-class material in her catalogue to round out a two-hour show. Yes, “Rude Boy” is a fun, dirty romp, but “Cheers (Drink to That)” is the sort of filler that even die-hards would be hard-pressed to defend.
Thankfully, the evening ended on a high note, with a two-song encore that started with “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)”, which RiRi delivered from atop a piano that slowly rose above the stage. Her singing was both heartfelt and technically accomplished, and those are tricky elements to balance. The concert closed with the inevitable “Umbrella”, a shower of confetti, and no more Unfortunate Coincidences.