“It’s been a while since we’ve been on tour,” Rihanna declared to a packed house at the kickoff of her ANTI Tour on Saturday. “And now here we are in … Jacksonville?”
Yes, RiRi gifted the Florida city that smells like coffee (there’s a Maxwell House factory downtown) with the first stop on her tour — but only after canceling the previous seven cities because of production delays. “Y’all get to see this s— before anyone,” Rihanna proclaimed to her assembled subjects, a mix of the GNO crowd (pleather pants and Henry’s Hard Soda), third-date couples (jeans and Bud Lite), and Wanna-Rihs (legs and rumrunners). “And I know y’all really have to love this s— to spend money on this s—.” But did she work-work-work-work-work hard enough to ensure her fans got their money’s worth? Read on for the night’s biggest surprises.
1. Eyes to the back at the beginning
Taking the stage around 9:20 p.m., Rihanna gave back-of-the-house ticket holders the first close-up view of the evening. Wearing what appeared to be a loose-fitting straight jacket crossed with a boxer’s robe for a look that said, “Sexy Jawa” (only her eyes were visible — barely), she performed her smash “Stay” from 2012’s Unapologetic. It was a true-to-the-studio rendition that had fans joining in, but like several other of the other hits she would perform later in the evening, the song suffered from the lack of guest vocals (in this case, Mikky Ekko’s counter-yearning). This is a one-woman evening, and the only “anti” is of Rihanna’s choosing. Of course, no one watching her high-march/slouch-strut across a glass catwalk to the ego-fueled anthem “Sex With Me” could doubt that she isn’t capable of commanding a sold-out arena on her own.
2. The ‘Work’ lyrics are just as unintelligible when sung live
Anyone wondering whether the Grammy winner’s new single off ANTI — performed in Jacksonville without Drake — is easier to sing along to in person (a feat that even vocal sorceress Ariana Grande couldn’t pull off on last night’s SNL) needn’t wonder: It isn’t. But the crowd satisfied themselves with a general murmur-along during much of the chorus — and saved some of the loudest cheers of the night for whenever Rihanna shook her rum-pum-pum-pum to the beat.
Check out some fan-shot footage below:
3. There’s plenty of bubbly
Although her language is decidedly Ri-rated, the show does feature at least one squeaky-clean element: a wall of what appears to be dish soap bubbles that serves as one of the few production values in a show that’s light on them. A small corps of dancers brings added oomph, especially a pair of double-jointed male performers in gold glitter body suits who helped lather up the crowd during “We Found Love.” But given the tour’s postponed start, it’s disappointing that there aren’t more show-stopping FX to account for that 7-city production delay.
4. Rihanna is thirsty … ‘Like actual thirsty’
The Barbadian superstar spoke to the crowd intermittently, mostly to offer the usual onstage pump-up. (“Jacksonville, I know you know this s—!” she said before kicking off “Umbrella.”) She implored fans to “put your diamonds up” and helpfully informed fashion-watchers, “My shoes are Manolos.” She also marshaled the masses before “Four Five Seconds” with every weekend warrior’s battle cry: “We want break. We want vent. We want four, five seconds to blow the f— off. Who wants to vent with me?” And in the night’s funniest moment, the sweaty singer — who at one point paired a leather lace-up corset with a pair of high-waisted pants that looked like they were taken from Diane Keaton’s ’80s corporate climber wardrobe in Baby Boom — asked for a water break amid the oppressive Florida humidity. “I’m thirsty,” she said. “Not thirsty like that! Like actual thirsty.”
5. The show was less than 90 minutes long
Despite a generous set list of her biggest hits, the entire show clocked in just under 90 minutes (not counting Travis Scott’s solid opening). Although the singer appeared to be having fun throughout the night — maintaining a steady smiling streak — she also had her foot on the gas, speeding from one song to another in what felt like a race to the finish. “This is the sad part of the show, when you know it’s almost over,” she said shortly before closing out with “Kiss It Better.” But she didn’t seem sad. And if her fans were disappointed by the brevity — no encore! — they didn’t appear to dwell. “That was fast,” one young woman told her friend as the crowd quickly evaporated. “Yeah, but I enjoyed every minute,” came the reply. Which means it work-work-work-work-worked.
Check out more fan-shot footage below: