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In concert: Rihanna at Jiffy Lube Live

rihannaSymbolism abounded during Rihanna's Friday night show at Jiffy Lube Live. (Photos by Tracy Woodward/TWP)

By Chris Richards

Rihanna’s boldest hits have always straddled the invisible lines that separate love and danger, vulnerability and aggression. But as she belted the refrain of “Go Hard” on Friday night, the 22-year-old pop princess straddled something much more conspicuous: the turret of a hot pink army tank.

It was the biggest stage-prop-as-metaphor in a performance teeming of cartoonishly violent imagery and powerfully heartsick pop songs when the singer’s “Last Girl on Earth” tour made one of its final domestic stops at Jiffy Lube Live.

And the prop-aphors kept coming: A scantily clad firing squad armed with fluorescent rifles pantomimed the singer’s execution during “Russian Roulette.” Demonic predators on stilts ambushed her during “Disturbia.” Animated stockpiles of rainbow syringes flashed across a towering video screen during “S.O.S.”

For Rihanna, love isn’t a battlefield so much as a gulag reimagined as Disneyland -- a purgatory where love can’t hurt you if you’re toting Day-Glo weaponry. She strutted through this prismatic war zone for an expertly paced 90 minutes, singing forcefully while retaining a beguiling emotional distance from her mostly young, mostly female, mostly adoring audience. On her albums, that distance can feel like despondency. On stage, it felt like mystique.

This is a singer who has every reason to be guarded. Last year, Rihanna suffered a galactically publicized catastrophe when fellow pop star and then-boyfriend Chris Brown assaulted her the night before the 2009 Grammy Awards. Suddenly, millions were demanding a bigger window into Rihanna’s headspace.

With the hyper-sharing culture of the Facebook era, our appetite for celebrity access grows and grows. Some artists are willing to oblige (see: Kanye West on Twitter). But increasingly, the candy shell that used to protect pop stars from the public has since morphed into the same high-grade titanium that Prince and Madonna utilized to shield their respective mythologies in the ’80s. Can you imagine Lady Gaga’s personal life exploding in the tabloids the same way Britney Spears’s did five years ago?

(Read the rest of the review, plus more pictures after the jump.)


Rihanna has developed a similar psychic armor -- and that’s exactly what made her most recent album, “Rated R,” so hard to enjoy. She failed to inhabit these darker, more dramatic tunes, opting to execute them with cold, flat precision.

But on stage they felt vivid, partially because you could actually see her punctuate her verses with her Twizzler-red coif as she lashed it from side to side. The rest was due to her backing band who loosened up her songbook's rigid electronic rhythms, giving the star a little space to roam.

She was all sass with “Rude Boy,” a song whose slackened beat practically demanded the gyrations she performed. Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt of hair metal balladeers Extreme, stood sentinel, quietly tucking a percussive riff into the mix. On the rock-tinged songs Rihanna is so fond of, including “Fire Bomb,” "Rockstar 101" and “S.O.S.,” the guitars roared.

They came roaring back during the grand finale of "Umbrella," the uber-hit now synonymous with 2007. It's a song about fidelity, but Rihanna took a different tack, melding cheer and uplift with doom and gloom. The video screen depicted rivers of molten lava swallowing a dystopian cityscape while red confetti came flurrying from the rafters.

Rihanna basked in the downpour, donned a wide smile and then let out a strange roar of her own -- somewhere between a victory shout and an anguished groan. It was the sound of a pop star with an enormous voice who's still trying to figure out where she stands.



By Chris Richards  |  August 21, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Rihanna  
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This review told me absolutely nothing.. are you her roaving Psychologists or did you actually have a good time at the show? Just asking

Posted by: rvanags | August 21, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Why does this sound vaguely like someone mashed up Disturbed and Madonna?

Nuno Bettencourt. Wow, have not heard that name in a while. Someone in Rhiana's production team has good taste.

Posted by: EricS2 | August 21, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

The only review that came right out and said the show and the singer needed much help was MTV (others touched on it), this is this girls problem they sugar coated her as usual for a fight in which she lost. I hate that they use that incident to sugar coat her and try to add life to her show and music. I dont believe in domestic violence but she was not in that category. She's an artist that has no depth when performing her songs, in which they have the ability to be epic but because Rihanna dont know melodies, tunes and harmonizes she is not able to pull it off in other words she cant come back, she cant drift off and add to a song like true artist like an Mary J Blige or better yet Madonna who can dance all around the stage and sing and come back on point, that would kill a person like Rihanna, if not for them in the audience she would have been lost on all shows, it's all about her music and not her singing her music. This review went all around the world saying nothing. Be specific, she cant sing, hollaring is not sining in my book and the slutty clothing for the kiddie audience we all know she captures is a way bit too much. As a person who knows good music when I hear it live, knows she's not it. Stop adding a fight in which she started and lost as domestic violence. Rihanna sucks! Her stay in this business is based on the songwriters and beats in which Oprah could do. They put her in the right place at the right time all the time. The song with Eminem is another placing, it would have been a hit regardless. Quit focusing on looks instead of talent in which she dont fully have, just ask her peers. I have watched this girl go from bad to worst and people call it talent, showing more flesh is not talent. I repeat she sucks and she has a lot of growing still after 5 years in a business she has dominated.

Posted by: msvhead | August 22, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Nuno was the secret weapon of the show.

Posted by: Hemisphire | August 23, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

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