Live Review: Rihanna + GTA - Allphones Arena, Sydney (03.10.13)

A few bad reviews citing tardiness, laziness, and excessively sexual dancing has marred Rihanna’s current visit to Australia; part of her Diamonds World Tour. However, there was no trace of such mediocrity at the first of her two Sydney dates taking place at the packed Allphones Arena; Rihanna put on a performance which caught me completely off guard, and turned myself, a casual, relatively uninterested listener, into a firm believer that Rihanna is one of the finer pop stars around.

Now I had already seen Rihanna live once – supporting Jay-Z back in 2006 on the ‘Roc Tha Block’ tour. She struck me as a decent enough entertainer, but her voice was shaky at times, and her catalogue was nothing compared to today. All that performing has paid off.

Rihanna has proven a unique staying power that many of her peers cannot grasp; she emerged from being just one of the three ‘next gen pop stars' signed by Jay-Z (the other two were Ne-Yo and Teairri Mari) to a household name, and has done it all on the back of clever hooks, trendy production, and distinctive vocals.

Sole support came in the form of an unexpectedly good DJ set courtesy of duo GTA, who played over an hour of stadium-worthy electronica to get the crowd limber for Rihanna. After seeing sets like this hundreds of times over the past few years, I have become quite cynical to these acts; it says a lot that I found GTA filled the support slot well.

Curtains closed and re-opened 20 minutes after Rihanna was scheduled to begin – thankfully nothing compared to her being over an hour late in Adelaide. The Grammy winning singer was accompanied by a large statue of the Virgin Mary for a fairly boring opener of "Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary", which strangely felt off-kilter to everything that followed.

Leaving the stage to quickly change costumes, Ri and her stage set up became larger-than-life displays, with the singer sprinkling swagger all over her fans with "Phresh Out the Runway", a decidedly “turnt up” introduction to the raunchy "Birthday Cake". Rihanna proceeded to bust out the overtly sexual dance moves in her thigh-high boots. Thankfully – unlike a certain younger singer – RiRi knows how to make twerking look at least a bit tasteful; the same can’t be said for the constant crotch rubbing though.

Lip-syncing was common place throughout the first several songs, with Rihanna choosing to focus more on the choreography - which was mostly impressive – and strutting around the stage to make different sections of the audience go completely insane with cheers.

The anthemic "Pour It Up" was an early highlight, which unfortunately was followed by the slowest part of the show. Ri’s roots in reggae-tinged R&B is always a welcome listen, but puts the brakes on her fast-paced live show. Still, it was nice to see her change from a see-through dress to a more casual, tropical outfit that had her strutting around stage acting all gangster to "You Da One" and "Man Down". The latter had visuals of fake warrants made out for Rihanna’s arrest.

The first ‘crowd standing and going absolutely bonkers’ moment came with "Rude Boy", a pay-off for those not too interested in her ‘reggae’ segment.

Timed explosions of fire came with the electro-infused "Jump" and stayed with her all throughout her ventures into the rock-ier side of pop. The Slash-assisted "Rockstar 101" followed an unexpected inclusion of Kanye West’s "All of the Lights", and had RiRi share the spotlight with her guitarist. It was clear she was segmenting her shows with small nuanced changes in her style, and while there usually isn’t much versatility within pop music, Rihanna demonstrated that she is very capable of attempting a range of styles and adapting them to her own.

A very sultry red dress covered Rihanna as she writhed her way through "Loveeeeeee Song", a decent track sadly spoilt by Future’s grating vocals. This was followed by the welcome and familiar hook of "Love The Way You Lie", with the hit song’s sequel blended into "Take a Bow" and "Cold Case Love". Instead of having these three songs sound rushed, Ri cleverly segued between them to tie them together into one big ballad.

The pinnacle of the concert started with the very loud "We Found Love", complete with the usual flashing lights and fanfare. Everybody in the arena was on their feet by this point, bopping along to the addictive electro anthem. Not content with letting us sit down, Rihanna continued with her biggest club smashes and concluded this section with the excellent "Where Have You Been".

"Stay" and "Diamonds" took up the final encore, with Ri in a glittery one-piece and a diamond-studded choker, giving that rare display of her fairly powerful voice and reminding us that despite the backlash that she often has to endure, the pop star’s talent cannot be denied by anyone who doesn’t have some sort of bias.

Honestly, if you are heading to the remaining tour dates – even if you aren’t much of a fan – you are in for a treat. Let’s just hope that Rihanna stays sober for her subsequent performances and doesn’t waste any time, because it’d be a shame to let that talent be understated by anything else.

Set List:

Love without Tragedy/Mother Mary

Phresh out the Runway
Birthday Cake
Talk That Talk
Pour It Up
Cockiness (Love It)

You Da One
Man Down
No Love Allowed
Rude Boy
What’s My Name

All of the Lights
Rockstar 101
What Now

Loveeeeeee Song
Love the Way You Lie (Part II)/Take a Bow/Cold Case Love
Hate that I Love You

We Found Love
S&M/Only Girl (In the World)/Don’t Stop the Music
Where Have You Been