Exclaim!

Rihanna

Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON, November 15

Rihanna
Photo: Cam Lindsay
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In March, Rihanna will bring her Unapologetic tour to Toronto for an arena show at the nearly 20,000 capacity Air Canada Centre. Touching down in the T-Dot for her promotional 777 tour (which flies across the globe for seven shows in seven days in seven cities), however, the Barbadian beauty chose a venue a fraction of the size for an intimate performance exclusively for her biggest fans.

She greeted the crowd with a "Toronto, what the fuck is up?" — something she reiterated a few times in the heavily F-bomb-laden night — with her modest but talented group of musicians behind her (including one-time Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt). They opened with "Cockiness (I Love It)," to which RiRi strutted the stage, posing provocatively for the hundreds of shutter-happy smartphone cameras. She was primed for affection and she got it nice and loud.

Mixing the set with a smattering of new tracks ("Diamonds," "Phresh Off the Runway") and smash hits ("Don't Stop the Music," "Where Have You Been"), the pared-down production was executed almost as if it was in an arena (the lasers were a nice touch). It's a shame then that Rihanna still doesn't have the voice to match her gargantuan persona. She bristled with self-assurance and swagger, but at times avoided some of the big notes, relying a little too much on her two backing singers.

Her fans didn't care in the slightest, however, and were easily infected by Rihanna's unbridled energy. Hell, even the muscle heads couldn't help but sing their hearts out during the lulling ballad portion of the set, which included slow ones like "Unfaithful," "Take a Bow" and "Hate That I Love You."

It wasn't just about her songs, as RiRi also ran through a medley of sorts that featured Jay-Z's "Run This Town," T.I.'s "Life Your Life" and Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie." For the abbreviated "What's My Name," there was no surprise appearance by hometown boy Drake, though everyone was eagerly awaiting the former lovebirds to rekindle the flame right before their eyes (dropping the intro to "Take Care" felt like an even bigger tease).

After nearly 90 minutes, Rihanna ended things with her two biggest hits to date: a rocked-out version of "Umbrella," then a euphoric, resounding "We Found Love," which climaxed with shiny silver confetti falling from above.

Getting up close and personal to one of the planet's biggest stars made it a night to remember, but there's no denying that what she'll bring to the much bigger stage in a few months is the kind of spectacle that's made her what she is.
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