Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gig review: Rihanna in Brixton

I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Rihanna's album launch last night. That pinched, whiny noise she refers to as "singing" isn't really my cup of tea, and her eyes are so dead they may as well be marbles.

Despite those setbacks, she's managed to make a decent clutch of hit singles over the last couple of years. You may have heard them. There's that one about the brolly, and the other one and the ballad. Top quality stuff.

The star's new album, which leaked on Bit Torrent just hours before the gig, is foreboding and sinister - but it works surprisingly well live. Rihanna kicked off the show with the scuzzy Wait Your Turn, emerging from below the stage in a black and silver studded leotard, fishnets, and a lace eyemask. Then, straddling a rotating armchair (?), she launched into Russian Roulette, which she finished by pretending to shoot herself in the head.

After all this drama, the segue into the older, bouncier material could have been awkward - but Don't Stop The Music, Disturbia and the rest had been suitably roughed up before the show. The visuals complimented the newly gritty Rihanna sound, with video backdrops full of disturbing post-apocalyptic images (assuming that throwing black paint at a tailor's dummy was meant to represent a planet devastated by a cataclysmic climatic event, and I think it was).

Rihanna's vocals were more mature and fulsome than I'd given her credit for, particularly on the slower tracks. And the 21-year-old was on fiesty form, clambering over the vintage TV screens that littered the set, and pausing to fondle a mannequin's private bits. The saucebucket.

For the grand finale, Jay-Z turned up for a perfunctory run-through of his bits on Run This Town and Umbrella - during which several members of the audience put up their umbrellas and waved them around in the air. Best moment of audience participation ever.

Then, with a brief "I love you all", Rihanna prowled off the stage and disappeared. I don't mind saying that she'd taken my preconceptions with her.

Rihanna - Russian Roulette

Madhouse (intro)
Wait Your Turn
Russian Roulette
Don’t Stop The Music
Take A Bow / Disturbia
Live Your Life
Run This Town

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