When the 28-year-old superstar Rihanna played American Airlines Center five years ago, the show was cut off unexpectedly after a piece of her set caught fire and filled the stage area with smoke. Could’ve been a blessing in disguise, as the performance before said fire left much to be desired.
Rihanna’s latest gig the Dallas arena on Friday gave the healthily-packed house a more energetic and rejuvenated performer. Also, the pop gods didn’t allow another show-stopping incident. A win-win for everyone involved.
It was refreshing to see Rihanna’s headlining set start in more serious and striking fashion than the crowd-baiting silliness of her opener, Travis Scott.
Rather than kick it off with an explosion of beats and choreography, she made her way to the top of a tall platform box set up near the middle of AAC’s floor, away from the main stage. She stood at a mike and crooned the melancholy verses of her 2012 ballad, “Stay,” head half covered with one of her high-fashion hoodies.
When the song ended and Rihanna removed the hood, screams intensified and the crowd got its first real look at her. She continued the slow build with an Eminem-less take on “Love the Way You Lie.” But how would she make it to the stage from her platform of solitude, across a floor packed with fans?
Once the ballads were done, the tempo quickened and a clear, rectangular bin lowered from the ceiling. Rihanna stepped into the scary-looking transporter, and it proceeded to move her over the crowd, toward the stark white stage containing her band. On the way there, she danced from one end of the moving box to the other, twerking, posing and occasionally singing to “Woo” and “Sex With Me.” You can only imagine how many phones were out during these moments.
Once she made it to the stage, out came dancers who not only backed the singer but also handled the transitions whenever she’d disappear for a costume change. The entire production seemed to be at peak power during the hit single “Bitch Better Have My Money” — clarity of sound, movement of dancers and the energy of the boss lady all came together beautifully.
Although the primary focus of Rihanna’s setlist Friday was this year’s winning, diverse album Anti, she did remind AAC’s crowd of the cavalcade of radio smashes that’ve have propelled her over the last decade. There was a medley of her featured parts on T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” Jay Z’s “Run This Town” and Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” “Diamonds” popped up later in the evening. And, yes, the song that made her a household name, “Umbrella,” got its obligatory singalong.
Yet it’s clear Rihanna’s not that interested in her former chart successes these days. She’s as taken with her new record as the millions of listeners who’ve made its singles recent No. 1s.
“How many of y’all got that album?” she asked to screams. “How many stole that [expletive] off the internet for free?” Even more screams.
“It’s cool, it’s cool — As long as y’all actually listen to the [expletive] and know the words to this next joint … I’m-a let y’all stay.”
And what was the next joint? The dark-but-melodic “Desperado,” which had fans around me singing and doing their own personal choreography. They loved current hit “Needed Me” just as much, enthusiastically chanting the lyric, “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?”
The most popular song from Anti is the Drake duet “Work,” which Rihanna handled just fine on her own (with backing dancers) on Friday. The island rhythms and cadence are second nature to the Barbadian star, so much so that it’s awkward when other stars attempt it.
“Work,” “Rude Boy” and the glitchy banger “Consideration” all demonstrated what has been a bankable signature style for Rihanna.
She proved Friday that she can handle it all, though, moving with gusto, singing live as well as can be expected with so many moving parts, and generally having a good time on stage.
This time it was “RiRi” who gave off all the heat.