Rihanna – Nottingham Arena, Thursday December 20
After the disappointment of her cancelled show on Saturday December 10th, it was a relief to see Rihanna return to Nottingham in full health, for the very last date of her Good Girl Gone Bad tour. However, for anyone hoping to see Ciara, who had been advertised as the main support act, a further disappointment was in store. After the winners of this year’s Dance X contest had finished strutting their stuff, we were left waiting for a full hour before the show continued, with no apology or explanation given for the R&B starlet’s disappearance. The situation had also caught the Arena’s staff by surprise, and not even your reporter’s determined enquiries could draw any further information.
The good-natured crowd took it all in their stride, greeting Rihanna with ear-splitting squeals of delight. Accompanied by four dancers, two singers and a four-piece band, she launched into a thumping version of Pon De Replay, working the stage with a broad, happy smile.
In contrast to the imperious, untouchable likes of Beyoncé Knowles, there was nothing of the diva or the control freak about this 19 year old Barbados girl. “I’d like to think that I’m pretty normal”, she told us during the ballad Question Existing, and this unaffected, girl-next-door attitude formed a key part of her appeal. This being the final show of the year, her backing dancers took every opportunity going to prank her, with their daft wigs, silly costumes and ludicrous dance routines reducing her to giggles on several occasions. With all the relaxed, affectionate, end-of-term silliness on display, you sensed that Rihanna ran a happy ship.
However, none of this could really excuse the shortness of the performance, which ran to just under an hour and a quarter, a couple of songs and costume changes having been dropped from the usual running order. This wouldn’t have mattered so much if we had been treated to the sort of full-on theatrical spectacle that might have been expected from a star of Rihanna’s calibre, but there was something a little lacking in the basic staging, the fairly ordinary choreography – and even in the singer’s tacky PVC costumes, which looked as if they had been picked up from the nearest Ann Summers.
That said, there was nothing cut-price about Rihanna’s extraordinary vocal prowess, which peaked during the show’s ballad section with flawless renditions of Good Girl Gone Bad, Hate That I Love You and Unfaithful. These are her finest songs, all of which deal with different aspects of failing or dysfunctional relationships, and she sang them with subtlety, poise and grace, making it all look so easy.
Following this artistic highlight, the high-octane dance numbers which closed the main set came as a joyful release of energy – particularly the pounding club track Don’t Stop The Music, which sent the younger elements of the audience giddy with excitement.
The show could only close with one song. Umbrella has not only been 2007’s biggest selling single, but it has also been the year’s defining, inescapable anthem. It was therefore only right and proper that Nottingham’s final Arena show before Christmas should end on such a collective high, as dozens of umbrellas were hoisted all over the auditorium for what felt like an endless extended remix (it actually ran for ten minutes).
The night finished with Rihanna and her entire crew attacking each other with snow guns and generally goofing around, as Umbrella’s backing track chundered on and on. Sure, it was a little self-indulgent – but it was rather heart-warming as well.
Pon De Replay
Break It Off
Kisses Don’t Lie
Good Girl Gone Bad
Hate That I Love You
Sell Me Candy
Don’t Stop The Music
Push Up On Me
Shut Up And Drive