Rihanna at the Verizon Center, Washington, DC, Monday 29 April 2013
Rihanna's 100-minute show last night at the Verizon Center was a whirlwind, as she whizzed through nearly 30 songs from her own catalogue and those by a cadre of guests. The show was a refined machine: one song fed into the next without much pause for pleasantries or stage banter.
But without that kind of connection, Rihanna herself got a little lost. She's never been a particularly distinct pop star: "Umbrella", the hit that exploded her into superstardom, was famously first offered to Britney Spears, and this concert showed that she sometimes lacks the kind of wow factor that make her peers so distinctive. She lacks Christina Aguilera's range, Spears' dance moves, Pink's limberness, and Lady Gaga's eccentricities, leaving her as just the voice for a bunch of generic, over-sexualized dance anthems.
She does have a different heritage than the others, though, and one segment of the show highlighted her Barbadian upbringing, with the reggae rhythms of "You Da One" and "Man Down."
But the rest of the show put Rihanna's sexuality front and center, leaving no room for subtlety. In case you didn't know what she means by "suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion" or "my saddle is waiting, come and jump on it," an evening full of crotch grabs provided all the illustration one needs.
And then there was the unspoken, but most gossipy topic surrounding the 25-year-old singer: her relationship with Chris Brown. Rihanna didn't address it at all, except tangentially through a pair of songs, "Love the Way You Lie" (a collaboration with Eminem about abusive relationships) and the raunchy "Birthday Cake" (a recent collaboration with Brown). Her personal life certainly isn't any of the audience's business, but a little heartfelt emotion would've been far preferable to her rote comments about how she'd always remember this night and what an "epic crowd" it was.
It wasn't until the end of the night that Rihanna struck a gem: she opened her encore with the ballad "Stay", starting with just a simple piano accompaniment and growing to include the rest of her band. It was one of the few songs of the night that focused on the music, without the distraction of Rihanna's rudimentary dance moves or the on-again-off-again contributions of her backing dancers. It wasn't a soul-baring confession, but it was one step towards making her seem a bit less robotic.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
.: Originally published: DCist, 30 April 2013