Rihanna Finds Her Voice as 'Diamonds' Tour Shines In Hartford
Rihanna performs during her 777 tour in 2012. (Simone Joyner/Getty Images)

She bailed on Boston. She bagged Baltimore. The Diamonds World Tour had only just kicked off on March 8th in Buffalo when Rihanna was forced to cancel two shows under her doctor’s orders, citing laryngitis. Fortunately she managed to recover in time for a show in Philadelphia on March 14th, making the Friday stop at the XL Center Hartford her third concert of the tour. It appears the time off suited her well.

When the lights went out at 9:45 the darkness was pierced by the deafening screams of a sold-out crowd of 16,000 Rihanna fans. Seconds felt like minutes as the anxiety and excitement were raised to a fever pitch, when suddenly she appeared. Not with a bang and a burst of light, but softly. Crouched down beneath a lone spotlight and wearing a cloak that covered her, Rihanna sang the mournful “Mother Mary” from her latest album, “Unapologetic."  Black panels behind her came to light with video images and when she finished the song, she moved between them and disappeared. It was a stark and beautiful moment that forced the audience to focus solely on her strong voice.

After that defining moment, the stage came to light with all the bombast of a flashy awards show. Backed by a four piece band, two backup singers and eight dancers, Rihanna whirled into “Phresh Off the Runway," also from her new album. On a thrust stage set with Greek columns and multiple video screens, the singer was all smiles and kinky fun as she strutted around in black thigh-high boots and a silver spangled mini-dress. She turned to the crowd and assured them, “It’s all about Hartford tonight. The Diamonds World Tour is happening!”

For an hour and a half Rihanna shined. Her interplay with her dancers and her longtime band leader Nuno Bettencourt (of the rock band Extreme), was a treat, especially watching the Boston rocker dance with his guitar. With five costume changes, set changes and the glitz of video and flashing lights, the artist put on a fantastic show and was in excellent voice, her laryngitis clearly over. Part school-girl tease and part masterful performer, she grabbed her crotch and shook her bottom and smiled all the while. Her repertoire favored new material, though she made time for hits like “Umbrella” and “Rude Boy.” She finished with a two-song encore: a powerful rendition of “Stay” and concluded with the tour’s namesake, “Diamonds.” As she left the stage, she thanked the crowd but curiously did not introduce her band, who played an extended jam as the stage lowered and disappeared from view.

Opener A$AP Rocky kicked off the evening with a blazing set of rap numbers from his Billboard 200-topping debut, “Long Live A$AP." Backed by a drummer, bassist, DJ and keyboardist, Rocky gave a steady flow on songs, “Goldie” and “Fashion Killa;” closing with “Fuckin’ Problems” which put the crowd on its feet.

Rihanna is arguably the biggest pop star in the world. At only 25 she has recorded seven albums in less than ten years and sold millions around the world; she’s more than a household name, she’s a brand. A tabloid regular, her personal life has started to eclipse her music career; but with The Diamonds World Tour, it appears Rihanna is taking it back.

SETLIST:

Mother Mary
Phresh Out the Runway
Birthday Cake
Talk That Talk
Pour It Up
Cockiness (Love It)
Numb
Man Down
No Love Allowed
Rude Boy
What's My Name?
Jump
Umbrella
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
Stay
Diamonds