Rihanna April 29, Mandalay Bay Events Center.
For Rihanna’s Anti World Tour to completely fulfill the expectations suggested by its name, she might have skipped all of her greatest hits Friday night at Mandalay, or at least most of them. But the 28-year old Barbadian sensation didn’t take that approach. It wasn’t an anti-Rihanna-as-we’ve-known-her show. What she offered instead was a sultry, dynamic combination of material that proved just how well her latest work can mesh with the chart-topping music she has been making for more than a decade.
Following an energetic but ultimately forgettable opener from rapper Travis Scott, Rihanna entered to a platform at the back of the Events Center, her face obscured by the hood of a long white robe. She began not with one of her famous bangers, but with the melancholy pop ballad “Stay” from her 2012 album Unapologetic. While it was perhaps an unusually despondent way to start a pop concert, the audience didn’t seem to mind, cheering and singing along excitedly with cell phones in the air.
Rihanna transitioned easily into another hit ballad, “Love the Way You Lie (Part II),” before quickly shifting to a more upbeat tone. She delivered sensual renditions of new songs “Woo” and “Sex With Me” while moving from the back of the arena to the stage on an elevated, transparent catwalk. Throughout the show, Rihanna maintained an easy back-and-forth between old and new songs, performing crowd-pleasers like “Umbrella” and “Where Have You Been” alongside newer, more experimental tracks like “Desperado” and “Needed Me” from January’s Anti.
If anything, the most “anti” aspect of her performance was its understated production. The show was light on special effects, and her backup dancers were adept but never over the top. Their most impressive interludes provided chances for Rihanna to switch into the next slick outfit that looked straight out of a Vogue photoshoot.
Rihanna’s first of two shows at Mandalay Bay was a testament to both her vocal prowess and the depth of her discography. She sounded just as good bringing down the house with “Diamonds” as she did belting out powerful, agonizing new song “Love on the Brain.” And she didn’t need any gimmicks to amplify her talent. She just needed to let loose and work, work, work, work, work—and she was damn good at it, too.