Rihanna, Pixie Lott – Nottingham Trent FM Arena, Friday May 14.
Other arena acts might pad out their line-ups with cheap-to-hire wannabes and never-will-bes – but for Rihanna, only the best will do. Supporting her on Friday night were two recently chart-topping acts: Tinie Tempah, who rapped his way through a well received four-song warm-up slot, and Pixie Lott, who performed a decent-sized set with a full band.
Pixie’s efficiently crafted, straight-down-the-line pop contained few surprises, other than an ill-advised Kings Of Leon/Killers medley which proved to be a stretch too far. A polished performer with an unshakeably sunny demeanour, she was at her strongest on the soulful, retro-tinged ballad Cry Me Out – but overall, she would have benefited from a little more loosening up and letting go.
Perhaps spurred on by Beyoncé’s ever more elaborate stage productions, Rihanna’s current “Last Girl On Earth” tour represents a major upgrade from the rather basic show that we saw in December 2007. This time around, we were treated to a daring, high-concept visual extravaganza, stuffed full to bursting with eye-catching tricks and surprises.
Rihanna began her show singing Russian Roulette on a rising hydraulic platform, the front of her dress flashing with computerised patterns of red light that resembled moving blood cells. At the climax of the song, a mock assassination was staged. As the shots rang out, the lights drained from the singer’s body.
Seconds later, she reappeared in a flesh coloured swimsuit dress, cut as high around the thighs as decency would allow, cavorting with a troupe of bare-chested male dancers in spiked Prussian army helmets, while images of giant hand grenades flashed up on the screens behind. The action moved across the stage to a pink armoured tank. Donning a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, Rihanna straddled its cannon, which proceeded to fire glitter bombs into the audience. And we were still only two songs into the set.
During the third number (Shut Up And Drive), breakdancing crash test dummies tumbled over an army truck that had appeared from nowhere at the end of a specially constructed spur stage. By the end of the song, Rihanna, her dancers and a member of the audience were attacking the truck with baseball bats. And all of this was before the entrance of the Mad Max-style creatures on giant stilts… yes, it was that kind of show.
At times, this constant barrage of gimmicks did rather overwhelm the music – but at other times, the madness would subside, allowing Rihanna the space to deliver a tender, affecting ballad such as Unfaithful to a hushed crowd.
Compared to the unassuming R&B starlet of two and a half years ago, Rihanna has undergone a remarkable transformation, emerging from last year’s well-documented bust-up with Chris Brown as a stronger, tougher, seemingly invincible character who has assumed full artistic control over every aspect of her work. But you couldn’t help wondering whether, by transforming herself from smiling girl-next-door to imperious Amazonian warrior princess, and by adding so much distracting stage trickery and visual flim-flam, she was subconsciously surrounding herself with extra layers of protective distance. Yes, the technical brilliance of it all was vastly entertaining – not to mention great value for money – but perhaps next time, a little more of the human touch wouldn’t go amiss, either.
Set list – Rihanna.
Shut Up And Drive
Hate That I Love You
Stupid In Love
Don’t Stop The Music
Breakin’ Dishes / The Glamorous Life
Take A Bow
Wait Your Turn
Live Your Life
Run This Town
Set list – Pixie Lott.
Turn It Up
Boys & Girls
Here We Go Again
Use Somebody / When You Were Young
Cry Me Out
Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh)