I’ve had a secret crush on Rihanna for like 10 years.
OK, maybe not-so-secret. Back when “Umbrella” was a monster hit nine summers ago, my wife caught me listening to that song so many times, I’m surprised she didn’t insist on at least a trial separation. And don’t get me (or her) started about my obsession with “California King Bed.”
Which is why I’m still struggling to put into words my disappointment with Rihanna’s “Anti World Tour” concert at Time Warner Cable Arena on Sunday night, a show that marked her first appearance here since she opened for Kanye West in 2008.
It’s not a profound disappointment. It’s just that from where I was sitting, there was as much bad news as there was good news.
The good news: When Rihanna goes for it vocally – and when her six-piece band and her three backup singers chill out and let her do her thing – she slays. Her voice doesn’t have the fullness of Adele’s or the power of Demi Lovato’s, but she makes up for it with an velvety lower register. It would have been a painstaking process to find flaws Sunday night in, say, her handling of hit ballad “Love the Way You Lie (Part II),” or doo-wop-flavored “Love on the Brain.”
The bad news: Her six-piece band and her three backup singers simply don’t chill out enough. “Desperado” (off new CD “Anti”) was a muddled mess thanks to overbearing instrumentation, and the backing vocalists propped her up so much during “Same Ol’ Mistakes” (also off of “Anti”) that it seemed like they should have been out front and she should been in back.
The good news: Pretty much no matter what kind of outfit Rihanna lets hang on her figure, she slays. I feel it’s not chauvinist to call her achingly sexy because I feel that’s the vibe she’s going for, with her thigh-high chap boots, her nude-colored catsuit, her leather bustier, her shimmery/see-through black dress, and her ability to produce a come-hither look that will implode most men’s brains.
The bad news: Although her wardrobe sometimes leaves little to the imagination, I think most people walked away wishing they’d seen more of her – even if they won’t admit it. And I don’t mean skin. I mean her set spanned only 84 minutes. On top of that, she made four costume changes lasting about 2 1/2 minutes each; so she was actually on stage closer to just 74. For someone who has more No. 1 hits than anyone except Mariah Carey and The Beatles, 1 hour and 14 minutes is simply not enough. Sure, she doesn’t want to overdo it, but come on. Would you cut a 1-hour-and-14-minute version of “The Godfather”?
The good news: Most of the sold-out crowd didn’t sit down all night.
The bad news: As the finale neared, Rihanna announced that two good-but-not-showstopping tunes off of “Anti” would close out the night. So, instead of finally sitting down, many ticketholders headed for the exits early, knowing they’d already heard “Diamonds” and (an abbreviated version of) “Umbrella,” and realizing she’d tipped her hat that megahits like “Only Girl (in the World)” and “S&M” were not forthcoming.
Honestly, this is a tough call. I do love Rihanna. I loved the coolness of her entrance, made by emerging from a tunnel to the rear of the arena while wearing a white hooded robe and crooning “Stay.” I loved the serendipity of her mashup of Calvin Harris creations “We Found Love” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” I loved the audacity of her crazily double-jointed dancers. I loved the randomness of the humongous shower curtain that served as a canvas for oversized soapy suds.
But I had hoped I would love the overall experience just a little bit more.
Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP