LOUD Tour: Oakland [review]

Rihanna certainly knows how to excite a crowd.

She does so by belting out big dance-floor hits and she does it by crooning through equally appealing ballads. She accomplishes it with the help of a live band, which does a great job refashioning her radio singles for the stage, as well as with the assistance of a killer dance crew. She wins with big production numbers, full of all the outlandish bells and whistles one now expects from a true pop spectacle, but she also triumphs in the stripped-down settings.

Above all else, however, Rihanna uses pure sex appeal to get the job done. And she certainly succeeded on Thursday night at Oracle Arena.

The Barbadian R&B star’s fourth concert trek, the Loud Tour, is one of the sexiest road shows to touch down in the Bay Area in ages. The Oakland outing was bawdy, naughty and erotic — to an extent that might’ve made Madonna blush at times — and perfectly in step with the star’s overall sexy makeover, underscored by the recent album titles “Good Girl Gone Bad” (2007) and “Rated R” (2009).

The 23-year-old vocalist got the party rolling in high style as she opened the show with a dizzying take on “Only Girl (In the World),” one of the six singles released (thus far) from her fifth and latest CD, last year’s “Loud.”

The opening production was such an onslaught on the senses that it was initially hard to focus on the intended theme — if, indeed, there was one. She made her entrance via gigantic ball, wheeled into view by dancers wearing bizarre neon jumpsuits and something resembling catcher’s masks, and she looked great in a metallic blue mini-raincoat, which really wouldn’t have provided much protection from the elements.

She’d soon shed that raincoat — maybe because the forecast didn’t call for rain — and boogie about in a heavily jeweled bikini, which looked like something Cleopatra would’ve worn on a sunny day down at the Nile. Oh, yeah, and she’d do it during “Disturbia” — although, at this point, the music still seemed like an afterthought.

After things settled down a bit, it became easier to understand how the theatrics matched with the music — mostly because Rihanna made it simple for us. The staging for “Shut Up and Drive,” for instance, was basically just an old car, which the band’s guitarist — Nuno Bettencourt, of Extreme fame — would climb upon to solo.

Things got a bit raunchy during the cover of Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” as Rihanna appeared wearing a fitted tuxedo and used a cane to spank her scantily clad female dancers. She’d lose the tuxedo, and be stripped down to sexy under garments by those same dancers, as Bettencourt wailed through another guitar solo. Yeah, it was in bad taste. The guitar solo, that is.

The master-and-servant roles would be reversed with “S&M,” another “Loud” single, as Rihanna coaxed out the lyrics while struggling against chains held by her dominatrix. (At this point, I had to wonder what all the parents were thinking — since a high percentage of the 11,000-strong audience consisted of young girls.) Then it was a (lucky?) fan’s turn, as Rihanna brought a guy out of the audience to seductively snuggle during “Skin.”

Rihanna turned to a big-budget military theme, complete with a pink tank and dancers wearing camouflage outfits that were anything but standard military issue, beginning with “Raining Men” (her own song, not the far-superior “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls). Then, thankfully, she slowed things down — both in terms of tempo and theatrics — and let her supreme vocal chops sell “Unfaithful” and “Hate That I Love You.”

She’d close the roughly 100-minute main set in understated fashion with “Take a Bow,” then rev things back up again during a fantastic encore of “Love the Way You Lie (Part II)” and, of course, “Umbrella.”

Source: Mercury News

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