Robyn Rihanna Fenty didn't take the stage at the Tampa Bay Times Forum until 10:13 p.m. Friday. And when she did, the Barbadian troublemaker was dressed in a monkish cloak, on her knees singing Mother Mary, praying for forgiveness. Maybe for coming on so late? More likely for the sins she was about to commit over the next two hours.
It didn't take long for RiRi to shed the cloak and further attempt at atonement. After all, it's hard to repent in thigh-high boots. Emphasis on the thigh.
The 25-year-old pop heavyweight — the biggest-selling digital artist of all time, with some 120 million singles sold worldwide — does whatever she wants, from dating Chris "Bad News" Brown to sharing her love of weed with the online world to canceling a bunch of shows on her Diamonds World Tour, including a couple of stops earlier this week.
So it was no surprise that her show was an endlessly randy, slightly dangerous affair, full of f-bombs and erupting pyro and the sort of wardrobe and gyrations that'll make you a Saturday night star at Mons Venus.
In front of 13,490 fans — most of whom were young women in perilous heels — the gorgeous singer smiled big and coolly worked through most of her new album Unapologetic, plus a healthy smattering of chart-topping hits.
Backed by a six-piece band (including guitar whiz Nuno Bettencourt, from Boston rock band Extreme) and a host of dancers, Rihanna purred (Birthday Cake) and rapped (Phresh Out the Runway) and reggae-toasted (You da One) into a live mike — although she was obviously helped by prerecorded tracks as well.
When you come to a Rihanna show, you want the full bawdy boat, and despite the fact she's still not a stellar performer, there was enough energy coming from the Greco-Roman stage with its three tiers of mobile video screens to make this night a winner. She also went through dozens of, ahem, entertaining costume changes, from leather dominatrix gear to a Day-Glo jumpsuit thingie to a red skirt-and-top combo for an Eminem-less version of Love the Way You Lie.
Rihanna has a ridiculous amount of hits, so some she gave a complete treatment (Umbrella), others she abbreviated for lack of a partner (the Drake-less What's My Name?), and others were medley'd together (S&M/Only Girl (In the World)/Don't Stop the Music/S.O.S.).
And then there was downright rave-up We Found Love, during which she almost caused a riot when she jumped into the crowd for a dance-off, at one point playfully grabbing a fan's smartphone and taking the greatest "selfie" of all time.
As the clock closed in on midnight, Rihanna encored with the spare, lovely new ballad Stay and then the feel-good, if ubiquitous, Diamonds. She started and ended her show with clean, composed, classy grace. So is she an angel or a devil? Maybe we love her because Rihanna, like the rest of us, is a little bit of both.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.