"New Yo-ork, where you at?" asked Rihanna. She bowed for everyone at New York's Madison Square Garden and they screamed.
Rihanna's "Last Girl On Earth Tour" stop on Thursday (Aug. 12) was the perfect summer night entertainment. The 22-year-old Barbadian turned up the heat and showcased her powerful vocals and barely-there outfits, mixing the set with hits from the past six years. It's not until you attend her concert, that you fully realize her prominence in pop music over the last half-decade.
Ke$ha opened prior to Rihanna's set with safari-like scratches of glitter on her face, and she took two huge mallets to drums during the lively "Animal" in between playing the keyboard. The stage looked like Pee-wee's Playhouse and included cowbells during "Dinosaur," a slumber party atmosphere with dancers down to their skivvies on "Take It Off," high energy on "Your Love Is My Drug" and colorful streamers during "TiK ToK." Travie McCoy, former Gym Class Heroes front man also performed his summer anthem "Billionaire."
Rihanna's show started with these words on the screen: "This Is A Dream" and later "downloading dreams," an appropriate warning due to the "Rated R" content. Rihanna shared her world in a series of nightmares, pleasures, heartbreaks and futuristic fantasies, constantly crossing lines - a reflection of her magnified life under the media's -- and fans' -- microscope.
The nightmare sequence opened with the controversial "Russian Roulette" from Rihanna's latest record "Rated R," as piercing guitars commanded the crowd's attention and an "R" silhouette blazed in a fiery backdrop. Rihanna emerged to fan screams and slid forward on a lofted platform in a long, gothic dress and candy apple red hair. Halfway through the heart-pounding song, her dress lit up showing highlighting her torso in red. Once the trigger was pulled at the end, lights trickled down the bottom of her dress, providing a powerful visual to go along with the vocal.
"Hard" found Rihanna clad in flesh-tone bionic suit riding the canon of a pink army tanker while accompanied by shirtless male dancers carrying pink rifles as smoke shot up from the floor. She later slid forward on a conveyor belt in the mechanical "Shut Up And Drive" to the center stage extension, while crash test dummy b-boys bombarded her - she kicked one from a standing position on a car onto the ground and it was clear she was having fun. Later, a slower, ballad-like remix of "Disturbia" found Rihanna suddenly surrounded by three huge 15-foot, four-legged insect monsters as she crawled on the floor to escape while singing the dark vocal.
"Rockstar 101" allowed Rihanna to show off her dangerous side in a risqué outfit. Rihanna held a guitar in front of her while grinding on the circular platform on the extended stage, went back to the main stage to rock with the band as sparks fell from the ceiling. On "Rude Boy," red, yellow, green and blue faux-paparrazzos with Warhol-eaque sleeves filmed Rihanna cavorting around the stage and dancing atop several old TVs stacked into a pile.
"Love The Way You Lie" started with piano only, and the beautiful yet haunting tune turned into several bars of "Airplanes," which like "Lie" was also produced by Alex da Kid.
The sensual side of the singer continued with a mostly piano and bass rendition of "Rehab" lying on her back on a huge couch made from skulls, legs and arms. Then a grand piano moved forward and she performed "Unfaithful" with Kevin Hastings' stunning accompaniment. During the burlesque theater sequence, Rihanna sang a dramatic "Stupid In Love" and later showed off some sexy Latin dance moves during the catchy European hit "Te Amo" as two acrobats spun from tanks hanging from the ceiling.
The futuristic set of songs that came next included a remixed version of "Pon De Replay," and "Don't Stop The Music," with dancers in fluorescent jumpsuits. Rihanna wore an asymmetrical, skeletal outfit of strategically placed white tape. The fluorescent colors continued with "Breakin' Dishes," as she sung "I don't know who you think I am" as she slithered between two dancers. This transitioned into a brief instrumental cover of Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life" while Rihanna took drumsticks and banged away while smiling.
The highlight of the night happened when Rihanna spoke to her fans saying, "This is my very first time headlining my world tour in the United States of America. You made it possible for my dream to come true." A lullaby-like series of chords started and a roaring applause took over the Garden as Rihanna sang "How 'bout a round of applause?" on "Take A Bow." The moving song took over the venue with most everyone singing along and the music stopped for 30 seconds as people got out of their seats for the "standing ovation" part of the song. Rihanna waved to people on screen as the cameras panned the audience.