For the first time in her career, Rihanna took more than two years off between studio albums, and judging by the latest version of her stage show, the time away has resulted in a more focused and mature live performance. Lower on flash, filler and overt sexuality than some of her previous setups, the first show of her Anti World Tour's two-night stand at Toronto's Air Canada Centre opened simply and beautifully.
The 28-year-old pop star appeared not on the main stage but on a makeshift one that formed over the soundboard, where she belted out a stripped-down "Stay" before strolling through her adoring fans to the stage, all draped in white. Flanked by a six-pack of choreographed backup dancers and a six-piece band stuffed in the shadows, the Barbadian expertly soared through her catalogue of chart-topping hits.
Stuffing 20-odd singles — from "Umbrella" to "Kiss It Better" — into 90 minutes requires some trimming and leaves little space for banter, but a medley of hooks — "Live Your Life," "Run This Town," "All of Lights" — provided a snapshot reminder of why Rihanna has sold more than 200 million records. Local boy Drake was a no-show for The Real Jerk anthem "Work" (he had cameo'd during the Miami stop last month) or an emphatic "Take Care," but the crowd paid it no mind.
Noticeably absent were the overly revealing costumes, the guitar solos and the patting of her privates, a go-to move during RiRi's tour with Eminem in 2014. Turns out, "Cake" is just as sexy without Rihanna throwing it in our face. The set list was so streamlined that when she did take time to really dive into a song, as with "FourFiveSeconds" or "Diamonds," punctuated with a cascade of bath bubbles tumbling from the roof, it resonated.
Opener Travis Scott has apparently taken notes on efficiency from the headliner. With his mic permanently tuned to Auto, the Houston upstart stormed through plumes of fake smoke and beams of blue light, hyping the sold-out crowd with a 30-minute sprint through the best tracks from his Rodeo LP.
What the rapper lacks in vocal finesse, he makes up for in vigour and compliments. Against an outlandish and eerie Terminator-meets-Sonoran backdrop, the energetic MC popped with his canary-yellow spring coat, Seinfeld-style white hightops and shredded blue jeans. The diamond-encrusted pony around his neck bounced off his chest as he tore into "A-Team," "Pornography" and "Mamacita."
He praised Toronto's weed and called it the "best motherfuckin' city alive," blurting that "I might have to fuck around and get a citizenship." Then he hopped off the stage and climbed up into the ACC's 100 level, brushing with the fans while closing with his best song, "Antidote."