Rihanna brings five-ring circus to Barclays Center
Rihanna has been a reliable pop presence since she splashed onto the radio with "Pon De Replay" in 2005. Since 2009, new albums from the Barbadian singer have been as much a marker of November's arrival as the Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Her most recent, "Unapologetic," has spawned two Top 10 singles, the bleak "Diamonds" and the ballad "Stay.") This weekend, she's bringing her "Diamonds Tour" to the Barclays Center. The show is a five-act spectacle with dancers, elaborate sets and antics that bring arena rock's heyday to mind.
DRAMATIC ARC Rihanna's career has been a study in contrasts: She can smile like a pageant queen after performing a track like the lusty "Talk That Talk," and her catalog intermingles giddy tracks like "We Found Love" with grimmer songs like the murder ballad "Man Down." Her set list on Sunday at the Prudential Center included almost 30 songs split up into five acts, loosely themed around sex, Caribbean music, dressing up in rock-star drag, straight-up love songs and party jams.
"What's My Name" had a cameo from Canadian mope-rapper Drake on record, but the infectious, bouncy song belongs solely to Rihanna during the show, her almost-nonchalant flirtation proving crucial to the song's appeal.
"Umbrella," Rihanna's 2007 monster hit, was transformed into a sing-along that sounds positively innocent among Rih's more adult-oriented material; the pleading bridge was curiously excised from the live version, robbing it of a bit of its pathos.
The acronymic refrain for the whips-and-chains-celebrating "S&M" gave context to the cheerleader-uniform-like dress Rihanna wore for her final pre-encore set.
The darkly anthem-like "Diamonds" closed out the show, with Rihanna resplendent in a glittering dress and positively bubbly with gratitude to the cheering crowd.
ARENA ROCKING Rihanna's tour guitarist is the virtuosic Nuno Bettencourt (also of the chart-topping hard rock act Extreme), and she's taken advantage of that: In true arena-show fashion, he gets to strut his stuff with multiple guitar solos.
BACK TO BALLADS "What Now" hasn't been released as a single yet, but on Sunday night, it was a tour de force. Rihanna introduced the song by asking the crowd if there were people who just didn't understand love, then tore into the ballad like her life depended on it. It closed her third mini-set, and it showed how Rihanna's frothier, poppy side is balanced out by a deep reservoir of emotion.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn
INFO $39.50-$150; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com