Much like the entertainment at a striptease club, the music at a Rihanna concert is somewhat incidental – it’s part of the whole presentation, but it’s far from the main attraction.
On Wednesday evening at First Niagara Center, the main attraction sold sex with the help of a six-piece band, a host of dancers and a tastefully extravagant stage show. At times, Rihanna offered an exotic sexuality, at others, a raw carnality. But the thrust of the show could not be mistaken – this was about sex, not aesthetics.
This has never seemed to be a problem for Rihanna fans, and it wasn’t a problem during Wednesday’s stop on the “Anti” world tour, which found Rihanna presiding over a journey through her hit-heavy career.
The show was a slick, highly choreographed affair, punctuated by costume changes and a seamless flow between songs, many of which were performed in truncated versions or joined with others in medley form.
As ever, Rihanna spent much of Wednesday’s show singing along to backing tracks. Her voice has never been her greatest asset. Her charisma, rooted in a sort of aloof cool and half-lidded, languid irreverence, most certainly is.
That charisma was in full effect throughout, and the assembled appeared to be enthralled by it.
Some love is due opener Travis Scott, who managed to transcend his own run-of-the-mill material – think T.I. and Kid Cudi, that auto-tune-bathed stuff – with a completely commanding performance. Scott jumped into the crowd, shared the mic with a fan who knew every word, and got what looked like everyone in the place up on their feet and in the groove. Rarely does an up-and-coming opener command a major star’s crowd, but Scott owned Buffalo for 45 minutes on Wednesday.
Opening with the ballad “Stay,” the evening’s star emerged on a satellite stage at the rear of the arena, clothed in a boxer’s pre-fight garb. The place erupted, and audience reaction remained at a fever pitch as Rihanna cavorted across an elevated catwalk to the main stage, where she met her band and commenced a string of hits of the new (“Woo”) and older (“Pour It Up”) variety.
Props to the band, despite the fact that Rihanna never introduced them beyond “Give it up for my band and my singers.” The twin drummer, twin keyboard, guitar and bass combo did what it was paid to do, and added color when it could. There were moments when Rihanna’s lack of vocal power – in an age of high-volume, nigh-on-shouting divas, she is more inclined to purr than to roar – was compensated for by a sultry and engaging low register.
This, as evidenced by the playful “Love on the Brain” and the only slightly overwrought ballad “Love the Way You Lie,” is what Rihanna does best. Sadly, she doesn’t spend enough time doing it.
On the upside, Rihanna was clearly more engaged with the Buffalo audience than she was in 2013, when her “Diamonds” tour stopped by FNC, and she showed up late and played a short and frankly sloppy set.
On Wednesday, she hit the stage at 9:15 sharp, and she was on point throughout. She engaged the crowd. True fans most likely felt that Rihanna had given them what they came for. That, ultimately, is what matters.
Rihanna has grown up in public and known fame for the entirety of her adult life. Not yet 30, she already comes across as slightly world-weary, which is surely part of her appeal. Perhaps that’s the whole point.
Killer band, though.
Wednesday night in the First Niagara Center