Considering Rihanna cancelled the original July 2 opening date of her North American 'Last Girl on Earth' tour due to production issues, you'd think the bugs would have been worked out for Sunday's official kickoff show in Vancouver, British Columbia. And for 99.9 percent of the insanely over-the-top night, they were.
But if you were paying attention to what happened a half-dozen songs in, at the end of an impressively raging "Rockstar 101," you would have noticed things weren't going totally smoothly behind the scenes. Rihanna had just finished unleashing her inner guitar god, playing a gleaming black Flying V while perched atop a 20-foot-high hydraulic platform and attacking it with enough piss and vinegar to impress Pete Townshend. Finishing things off by dropping to her knees at the front of the stage while firing guitar picks at the frenziedfaithful, she handed the six-string off to a roadie, after which the trouble started.
For a good 10 to 15 seconds, Barbados' most famous musical export ended up getting caught up in the chain-link-like industrial meshing that served as a makeshift cage for her synth player. Given that Rihanna was crouched behind a bank of amps at the time, most of the 12,000-strong crowd never saw it, but when her hired hands managed to tear her free, she looked mad enough to spit daggers.
And sorry haters, but that was just about all that went wrong during a show that was nothing less than a full-on, wickedly entertaining spectacle.
The nonstop highlight-reel started two songs in, when Rihanna celebrated the, um, climax of "Hard" by hopping onto the giant gun of a life-size, cotton-candy army tank, and then gyrating until the inevitable explosion.
Less sexual, but no less satisfying, was the punk-lite rocker "Shut Up and Drive," during which a '57 Cadillac that looked salvaged from a Havana junkyard rose out of the stage with a live crash-test dummy behind the wheel. As Rihanna's crack band approached the song's finish line, the dummy morphed into a jacked-up breakdancer with headspin skills that would have impressed Brooklyn's original Rock Steady Crew.
No doubt aware ballads aren't good for anything other than convincing fans it's time to fetch another wine cooler, the cardinal-red-coiffed singer made a noble effort to keep things interesting during the night's slow jams. "Rehab" had her reclining on a giant sled made up of chrome-dipped mannequin parts, while "Unfaithful" found a mohawked piano player unleashing his inner Chopin during a mock funeral service.
Rihanna also knew when it was time to ratchet up the energy, with giant machine guns-each with an attached acrobat-popping out of the stage for the Latin-flavored "Te Amo."
How great was it all? Well let's just say that Rihanna-who went through more costume changes than cycle 13 of America's Top Model-probably didn't need to set off the inevitable confetti cannons during the set-closing "Umbrella." Heck, she even displayed some crazy drum-solo skills (she's been learning from Blink-182's Travis Barker) during a short-but-sweet cover of Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life."
As far as the screaming throngs were concerned, this was a night where she could do no wrong.
Ke$ha held down the middle slot of the night, proving herself fantastically obnoxious, which isn't meant as a putdown. Sporting a faded Metallica muscle shirt, ass-hugging silver hotpants, and extra-wide-weave fishnets, the unrepentant party animal from Nashville looked like she'd just stumbled out of the trailer park. In other words, here's betting that she actually does brush her teeth with Jack Daniel's, as she claims in her smash hit "TiK ToK."
Musically, Ke$ha proved a hot-mess mixture of '80s vintage synth pop, new millennium electroclash, and Lady Sovereignissue brat rap. As impressive as the beyond-snotty "Dinosaur" was, she scored her biggest cool points for arriving onstage with a guitar pimped out to look like an assault rifle. The fact that her backing band looked like a Road Warrior version of a Brooklyn hipster party only upped her already considerable appeal.
Opener Travie McCoy had the thankless task of playing to an audience which, for the first 25 minutes at least, seemed to have no idea who he was. But the half-full crowd finally snapped to attention when he launched into the world-beating hit "Billionaire" off his debut solo album, Lazarus. Ultimately, McCoy's set showcased him as a charismatic, versatile guy who sounds like he'd be just as comfortable fronting a Warped Tour act as he is going the solo MC route. If the hip-hop thing doesn't work out, he should really think about joining a band.