The news earlier this week about Rihanna needing to cancel performances because of laryngitis has probably had many of her fans worried. The pop star’s tour had literally just begun when the sickness struck- Sunday night’s Boston show and Tuesday’s in Baltimore were only the second and third dates on tour and both were postponed.
Rihanna’s concert Friday night at the Xl Center in Hartford should help ease some fears for the rest of her fans. While the pop star was not operating at 100 percent, its clear she’s healing and was well enough to put on a decent set with the support of an intense stage show.
Friday night’s set was bold, even by the standards of a healthy artist. The show lasted longer than an hour and a half, included seven wardrobe changes and dipped into 28 of her songs that include two for an encore.
The set started an hour late (A$AP Rocky was a half hour late) with the singer crouched in a pile of robes for “Mother Mary,” which led directly into “Phresh Out The Runway.” That began a stage decor that was a mish mosh of Roman and Egyptian antiquity with Rihanna playing a booty-dropping and self-touching Cleopatra.
Would you dance like that if you knew mom was in the crowd? Rihanna did, and the former Stamford resident called out her mother during the set to say hi.
Things slowed down later in the set as she donned a seductive red dress to perform several ballads, including a few off 2007’s Good Girl Gone Bad. The set picked back up to a party thumping rhythm for club hits like “We Found Love,” “S&M” and “Please Don’t Stop The Music.”
The stage setup was a massive, transforming beast replete with strobes and floating monitors. Sudden pyrotechnic blasts appeared at the chorus of “Jump,” and lasers came out for the club hits.
The backing band were given a few chances to shine, with harsh guitar and synth solos at the dark end of “Numb.”
It was clear vocal care was a concern throughout the set. In addition to taking periodic sips of water while sexily sauntering and booty popping across the stage, Rihanna regularly deferred to a backing vocal track. She’d simply singing a few words and moving the microphone away while the track finished the line.
At other points she called on the crowd to “help her sing” the song. It’s a clever trick, one that works for both audience engagement and giving the artist vocal rest.
When she took to the mic her actual voice wasn’t all that scratchy. There were a few minor cracks once or twice, but she went all out for the first performance of “What Now” on this tour, and for the encore close of “Diamonds.”
Whatever, she’s just getting over laryngitis. As we’ve all learned by now, pop music concerts are more about the stage show than vocal performance. The show is ambitious and it’s there. If Rihanna sticks to a regimen of sleep and Hot Toddies, she’ll be back at full strength in no time.