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Review: Rihanna's Anti World Tour gets artistic, futuristic at Amalie Arena in Tampa



Rihanna’s really into white these days. Taupe, beige and silver, too. Long, flowing robes; baggy, oversized hoods – basically, if it looks like attire from a post-apocalyptic outer-space oasis, your girl RiRi is down to clown with it all.

And wouldn't you know it? The fierce and fabulous Ms. Fenty pulls every bit of it off on her new Anti World Tour, which played to a sold-out crowd of about 12,000 at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Sunday.

It’s an elaborate and audacious affair, this tour, one that spotlights Rihanna’s rise from a dancehall singles diva into an object d’arte of her own creation – a living, breathing social media experiment, blossoming and flourishing on Instagram and Snapchat and whatever other platform she feels like dominating at the moment.

If her experimental new album Anti is the apotheosis of this evolution – and it is, let’s be honest, the first Rihanna album that feels like a real artistic statement – then her Anti World Tour is its three-dimensional embodiment.

EARLIER: Rihanna's Anti, Sia's This Is Acting approach pop stardom in divergent ways

Consider her wondrous stage. It's nearly entirely white – a blank canvas, if you will – yet tiered and sculpted, with hidden, moving compartments and escape hatches for Rihanna, her band and her dancers. A silvery, three-dimensional video wall floated down from the rafters with mesmerizing fluidity. Giant, bulbous balloon orbs bloomed up around the stage. And toward the end, a gelatinous ooze of soap bubbles drifted down a rear backdrop, creating the effect of a surreal, slow-motion avalanche.

It takes more than 130 people to bring a show like this to life; we know this because at the end of the night, credits listing them all scrolled up the big screen, from the band and dancers to carpenters, bus drivers and even the tour accountant.

And at the center of it all is Rihanna, whose innate sense of taste and style is the swizzle stick that stirs the drink.

She knows how to make a memorable entrance, that's for sure. Instead of popping onto that elaborate stage in a shower of sparks and smoke, she trudged out from the floor to a B stage in the back, shrouded in a huge white cloak and hood, singing her vulnerable hit Stay.

Then, as she played her first two tracks from Anti – the abrasive spaghetti-western thriller Woo and the provocative Sex With Me – Rihanna stepped on a glass catwalk that floated from the back of the arena to the main stage, swinging precariously as she vogued and gyrated above the audience.

The rest of the set, you could parse in a number of different ways. There was the hard-as-hell section, featuring possessed, menacing songs like Numb, B---- Better Have My Money and Pose. There was the string of inescapable hip-hop hits: T.I.’s Live Your Life, Jay Z’s Run This Town and Kanye West’s All Of the Lights. There was the tropical-influenced party sesh, with Man Down, Rude Boy, Take Care and latest No. 1 hit Work, all performed with Rihanna flanked by glittering, androgynous dancers and bathed in prismatic lights.

Rihanna’s Anti-era songs made a solid impression, too. She could’ve thrown a dart at a chart of No. 1 singles to pick a closer, yet she ended with a rousing run of FourFive Seconds (churchy, holistic), Love On the Brain (screaming, sizzling organs) and Kiss It Better (brain-blitzing guitar solos, delivered with arched-back passion).

She did unfortunately yield her white mic to a backing track for chunks of a few Anti ditties, including Consideration, Needed Me and Same Ol’ Mistakes. Was this a lingering effect from the bronchitis that forced the postponement of the first few weeks of this tour, or simply par for the course for Rihanna? We may never know.

To make room in her set for Anti, Rihanna left some monster singles on the shelf – Pon De Replay, S&M, Disturbia, Take a Bow and Only Girl (In the World), to name a few. But at this point in her career, she had no choice. Anti was the album she had to make to keep pace with her increasingly ambitious peers, the Kanyes and Kendricks and Beyonces of the world, and the Anti World Tour is proof she’s doubling down on this period of artistic experimentation.

“Y’all don’t owe me anything, and you still show up and show me this type of love,” she told the crowd Sunday. “This never gets old. This never gets normal.”

Normal? Who wants normal from Rihanna? She's a 30th century Amazon barely tethered to our planet. That look suits her just fine.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2016 2:18am]


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