Monday, June 20, 2011

Party Girl: Rihanna’s LOUD Tour

I used to worry about Rihanna. The assault and battery charges against her now infamous ex Chris Brown, and the resulting public scandal arising from the photographs of the then-bruised and battered Rihanna, were so shocking that one wondered what effect that might have had on her music. Was one of the most promising superstars of pop music about to go into hiding?

No, thankfully, Rihanna released her fourth studio album, Rated R, a mere nine months after the ugly events of that fateful evening. The music plumbed heretofore unexamined grief, betrayal, anger and defiance. The sinister first single “Russian Roulette” became an international smash and one of the most frightening, in terms of verisimilitude, pop singles of all time. It was and is also a sonic masterpiece. The other singles on the album tell the rest of the tale: “Stupid in Love”, “Hard” and “Cold Case Love”, and added to her nearly endless coterie of smash hits.

The concert tour that accompanied the disc, the Last Girl on Earth Tour, was perhaps one of the darkest-themed shows in recent pop music history. The Blogger was surprised to see such a disturbing spectacle and although impressed with the show, wasn’t sure if it was OK to really dance and let loose the way he does at other shows. Rihanna sported a severe Mohawk and sauntered angrily atop a pink tank. She was depicted on video screens as being a desexualized, militant alien figure, come to do battle with unseen evil forces. Rihanna displayed a new vocal prowess, a deep, sobering, defiant growl that showed the world she may have been knocked down literally, but not for the count. Never count out Rihanna. Given that she used to sing about giddy love on such hits as “Umbrella” and “Don’t Stop the Music”, Rihanna’s musical odyssey exploring abusive emotional love spoke of trauma that inadvertently contributed to her musical growth.

Cue to the fall of 2010. It turns out that Rihanna was ready to get back into party-girl mode. This is the performer we all knew and loved, and she had healed beautifully. This summer, Rihanna has taken to the road to celebrate the sounds of her glorious follow-up disc, LOUD. She has produced one of the best party albums in many a year, bringing her back to the very forefront of our most resilient and prolific pop stars, such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. Rihanna stated that her goal in creating this album was to create the ultimate club album, one that could be played end-to-end without having to skip any tracks and were ready to burn the dance floor. The LOUD Tour is tailored to match her new material.

To show that the tour is dedicated to creating a major dance party, Rihanna has expelled many of the signature songs from Rated R, so fans of her dark period will not hear “Russian Roulette”. The show is an all-out, non-stop club stomping extravaganza. The tour incorporates S&M-inspired imagery, undoubtedly to match her chart-topper of the same name, and will see the singer undergo six costume changes over two dozen songs. The fun, sexily cheeky set also includes a cover of Prince’s erotic classic “Darling Nikki”. Each show runs two full hours and the energy is continually buoyant. Rihanna is in full vocal command, power-dances her way through each number and relentlessly ensures that she delivers. It’s clear that on each and every stop, Rihanna has come to play, and the energy is clear from the constant stream of show clips and fan photos that appear on the singer’s Facebook page. Whereas the Rihanna of the Rated R era was introverted and angry, the one that is currently on tour is open, engaging and connecting with her fans in a new way. The pink tank is still there, together with a few hits from Rated R, but it’s clear that the star of LOUD has acknowledged that period in her personal and artistic life and intends to move forward.

Rihanna’s LOUD Tour is currently playing globally, having started this month with a series of sold-out shows on the North American East Coast, and will land in Vancouver at Rogers Arena on June 24 and 25. This tour will continue throughout North America into the summer and will play Europe through the fall, right up until the Christmas holidays. It is noteworthy that Rihanna will play her first-ever major show in her native Barbados, at Kensington Oval, on August 5, 2011. She will also play this year’s Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janeiro, on September 23. More information is available on the LOUD Tour website. [Update: Live Nation reports that Rihanna is scheduled to take the stage at approximately 9:00 pm PDT.]