Despite a recent reputation for on-stage lateness, Rihanna perhaps understood her fans didn’t want to schlep home from Olympic Park after midnight, so she started the latest show of her Diamonds World Tour a mere 20 minutes late last night.
Even so, things were slow to get off the ground. During the first 45 minutes of the concert, songs flew by thick and fast – none of them hits. It was an oddly structured setlist for an artist who’s built her career on radio smashes, and when she launched into the first proper hit of the evening 11 songs in – the undeniable Rude Boy – the audience instantly warmed.
From there, she was electrifying, making up for lost time by performing many of her best songs in medleys: the excellent Ginuwine-sampling dubstep banger Jump segued into a mass audience singalong for Umbrella, which she quickly followed up with a brief snatch of her hook on the Kanye West single All Of the Lights.
Later in the second half, there were glimpses of much needed inventiveness: break-up ballad Take A Bow seemed to be mashed up with Massive Attack’s Teardrop, with impressive effect.
And you have to respect an artist who decides not to save the hugest song of her entire career – the world-conquering goliath that is We Found Love – for her encore. The track ushered in the night’s most electric set, an exhausting run through Rihanna’s clutch of high-energy pop bangers: S&M, Only Girl (In the World), Don’t Stop the Music; all spectacular.
An aside, though: this reviewer doesn’t care much for complaints about big pop ladies miming on occasion during their concerts. If you get to hear a few ballads sung live by your favourite diva, seems you should allow them to lean on backing tracks when they’re performing their more strenuous dance-heavy numbers. But at least Rihanna’s contemporaries have the good sense to keep their microphones somewhere near their faces while miming. All too often during last night’s show, it was hard not to notice that the pop star held her microphone by her side, as her (pre-recorded) vocals boomed out through the arena.
But as she proved during a surprisingly intimate encore, Rihanna really can sing – sparse ballad Stay was performed entirely live, and her vocals were breathtaking.
INFO: Rihanna plays the final night of her Australian tour at Sydney’s Allphones Arena tonight, October 4. Tickets through Ticketek.