For more photos, see "Rihanna at Staples Center."
WHO: Rihanna, J. Cole
WHERE: Staples Center
Keytars. A giant bubblegum pink cannon and plastic guns. Dancers in Kriss Krossified fireman uniforms, and Rihanna in denim panties. The only discernable themes for Rihanna's "Loud Tour" are little clothing and lotta crazy. But after almost two hours strutting nonstop and singing (not lip syncing!) in a voice that needed only a little padding from reverb, Rihanna convinced us of her staying power as pop princess. The Ronald McDonald-colored wig held up pretty well, too.
Where Rihanna's show is a rapid visual assault of color, choreography, and confetti, rapper J. Cole's is a bare stage. He doesn't really need all of the lights, anyway; his talent's flashy enough. When we last saw him, he sold out the Key Club, but had a nasty habit of screaming his verses. Time, and the freedom of not having to carry a whole show, look good on him. His set was short, and the Staples Center was still filling up with Rihanna's crowd. But when he acknowledged both of those facts, saying, "I know you're probably wondering, 'Who the hell's this lightskinned dude?'", enough screams (maybe all from the four guys behind us who obviously were there solely for Cole) pealed to confirm that yeah, they know Who Dat.
But back to the crazy. The most memorable moments from Rihanna's show:
"Only Girl (In the World)"
As fog machines heaved out giant puffs, spaceships landed on the stage. They flipped like lids to reveal snatches of videos, and then parted as a pod carrying RiRi emerged. Her males dancers were in throwback TLC "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" jumpsuits and
muzzles masks, and she was in neon-colored neoprene heels, a bedazzled bikini, and a short metallic blue jacket. You know how babies' eyes don't know how to focus? Yeah, we felt blinded like that.
"Shut Up and Drive"
Out of a half sawed-off car leapt a crash test dummy who danced. Two girl dancers with baseball bats soon joined him. Then, as she stepped onto the hood, Rihanna announced that two fans from L.A. were coming onstage to help bash the car in with more baseball bats. Taking cues from Odd Future?
Predictably, there was a simulated S&M show. Unpredictably, it wasn't very sexy. Introduced by a video interlude of Rihanna dressed as both a man and woman, flirting with him/herself, the live Rihanna appeared as a tuxedoed madam overseeing her dancers writhe around on a little mini stage as she covered Prince's "Darling Nikki." They eventually stripped Ri down to a white bodysuit, and chained her up like she was a workhorse. Yes, it sounds far steamier than anything that actually happened onstage. Through holes cut on the mini stage, male dancers popped up and down like groundhogs who grind. Finally, they released Rihanna from her chains so they could have ... a slumber party. Rihanna and boys had a pillow fight. Literally. With silver pillows.
And then a 60-year-old man almost had a heart attack.
Nicki Minaj gives a lapdance; Rihanna gets on top. Pulling a middle-aged man in a baseball hat from the audience, she pushed him down onto the mini stage and climbed on top of him as two statues (seriously, zero body fat on those dudes) stood guard. Her guitarist, who unfortunately was staged to emerge from fog so often that it seemed he continually was filming a hair metal band's tortured ballad video, crept out for a badass solo.
A really bad Sheila E impersonation.
The only time Rihanna took a misstep was during her cover of Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life." Prancing down the aisle to a stage in the middle of the audience, she
banged on a drum set like a two-year-old played the drums and then tossed multiple drumsticks into the audience. But the memory of the real Sheila E, who's got about 30 years on Rihanna, performing this song so much better and hotter just last month during Prince's "21 Nite Stand" was still too strong to indulge Rihanna's toddler version.
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Rihanna rolled out in the pod again, this time in a canary Grecian gown and thigh high brown lace-up boots (who is the costumer for this show?). A wind machine went to work as she and her backup singers were suspended in the air. Hitting the ground, she happily bopped over to stage left and hopped onto a stool next to an acoustic guitarist for an "Unplugged" version of "Hate that I Love You." Then back to center stage. As the trusty ol' fog machine huffed, Rihanna gave a 1940s siren-like performance of "California King." Bipolar galore!
Like a spinning top slowing its looping pace, the show calmed as it neared the end. Back-to-back radio hits "What's My Name?" and "Rude Boy" stopped trying so hard, loosened up and had fun, and even though the encore found her on top of an ascending piano, when Rihanna smiled and plopped onto the lip of the stage for "Take a Bow," she finally seemed like just a normal girl.