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Rihanna: late and not great

Posted by James Reed  May 7, 2013 11:37 AM

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RIHANNA
At: TD Garden, last night

By James Reed
Globe Staff

She wasn’t worth the wait. And I mean that on two accounts. Rihanna was originally supposed to play the TD Garden in early March but had to cancel because of laryngitis. Fair enough.

When she returned last night, to another sold-out crowd of close to 14,500 people, it should have been spectacular. Instead, she took the stage around 10:30 p.m., 90 minutes after her scheduled set time. Rapper A$AP Rocky, her opening act, was a no-show because he was sick, leaving a DJ to fill three hours of silence.

Adding insult to injury? There was no announcement about the delays, or even a tweet from the artist, and certainly no apology at any point.

The crowd responded the best they could: with a round of boos. Even when the house lights went down, the cheers and jeers rose up in unison. That’s not how you want to begin your rescheduled concert.

All that drama aside, Rihanna gave a listless performance that hinged more on come-hither stares, coy smiles, a self-awareness that bordered on smug. Song titles reflected her overall state of mind: “Numb,” “Cockiness (Love It),” “Rockstar 101.” When she pulled her microphone away, you could still hear every word thanks to the backing tracks. She was half-hearted.

Nor was there any vision in the set design. Overhead screens rarely showed anything more than close-ups of our star. It was interesting to imagine what kind of mischief her friend Katy Perry could have had with a song like “S&M,” Rihanna’s delicious ode to, um, tough love.

Ballads, at least, are still her strong suit, the moments when Rihanna forgets the flash and burrows into a song’s sentiment. She sang an entire block of them, including “Love the Way You Lie” and “Hate That I Love You,” and her way with melancholy was on full display. She dedicated the closing “Diamonds” to Boston, acknowledging its strong spirit in the wake of the Marathon bombings.

She tried to hit hard in the last stretch with some of her biggest hits – “We Found Love,” “Only Girl (in the World),” “Don’t Stop the Music” – but it was too late. By then it was simply a mad dash to the finish line, just one more twirl and hair toss before she could recede into the shadows.

She seemed oblivious to all of this, of course. After the show, she expressed her love for Boston on Twitter, when really she should have copied and pasted the message she posted after her March postponement: “I’m hurt that I let you down.”

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.

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The latest news, commentary, and reviews on music in Boston and beyond.

Contributors

Sarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.

Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.

Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.

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