Last night, Rihanna returned to the stage at the O2 Brixton Academy in London. A live feed offered those not there the chance to watch the momentous occasion, beaming to an audience in the millions. The anticipation surrounding Rihanna’s formal return to the stage was already enormous. As her first solo performance since 2009’s forced hiatus, fans were already interested to see what she would bring to the table- new songs, new tricks, potentially a new direction? This was only amplified as the gig became the official album preview party, a fan concert and had Nokia’s backing.
The show was ticketed in a number of ways, primarily through Nokia customers and competition winners. Many sites (Consequence of Sound included) had pairs of tickets up for grabs, and the show rapidly became a hot topic. Nokia embraced this, running with the flash fire concept by integrating Twitter and Facebook into the marketing campaign, allowing users all across the world to watch, share and enjoy the performance live.
For a fan gig, however, the O2 wasn’t especially packed out. The official capacity stands at 5,000 but the ticketing must have been conservative as there was a lot of room to spare. Either way, the crowd made more than enough noise, largely made up of hardcore fans who had been queuing since 12.
Dubstep artists and album producers Chase And Status entertained the crowd in the build up, moving into familiar territory by spinning hits from Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z and N.E.R.D. After leaving the stage, their setup was completely cleared, and suddenly a number of mannequins and televisions became the focus. After a short and meaningless introduction from a host, the show was underway.
The set opened with a pastiche of paparazzi archive footage, opting to use Rated R‘s ominous opening track, “Mad House”, as a musical accompaniment. Rihanna rose up from beneath the stage to the opening arpeggio of “Wait Your Turn”, dressed in a leotard and lace eyemask, launching straight into the song. As the first few lines pass by, things seem shaky. Then the key line arrives, and everything clicks: “I’m such a fucking lady”; fittingly, the performance was uncensored. Her vocals were on point, the backing band offered just the right amount of impetus, and the crowd were sold.
Rotating around on a lounger for “Russian Roulette”, the vocal key was lowered a few tones to accommodate for some of the difficult high notes. It was a minor dent in a major performance, ending dramatically as the singer pulls a gun to her head, fires, and the lights fade to black.
The show featured material from previous albums; fan favorites “Don’t Stop The Music” and “Take A Bow” were extremely polished, incorporating the choreography and experience from the Good Girl Gone Bad tour. A fresh version of “Disturbia” had the crowd screaming along, the first of her singles which began to explore more adult boundaries without sacrificing chart potential. It’s a never ending game of toeing the line, one that has been taken to a new extreme with Rated R.
Latest single “Hard” featured the first of the special guests, Young Jeezy. It’s one of a number of heavyweight album tracks that translate perfectly to the live environment. After a short interlude the singer emerged in a new costume, ready to close the show. Armed with a sickel shaped microphone stand, the weird impliment was able to snake around her body at all angles, a nice visual touch. A brief snippet of T.I.’s “Live Your Life” caused momentary confusion, prompting calls for the rapper to emerge. Sadly not, but as expected, Jay-Z arrived to save the day. We were teased as “Run This Town” was played out acoustically before launching into a fully fledged performance.
Jay stayed on stage and delivered his brilliant guest verse on “Umbrella” before the singer closed the show. As the sparkly red paper showered down and the umbrellas were opened, it was clearly a mission accomplished. Rihanna was back, and already under the spotlight. Some might have irked such a public return, but this woman has a lot to say.
Wait Your Turn
Don’t Stop The Music
Take A Bow
Hard (feat. Young Jeezy)
Live Your Life
Run This Town (feat. Jay-Z)
Umbrella (feat. Jay-Z)