Loud is the perfect name for Rihanna's summer tour, which kicked off with last night's sold-out gig at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena.
Beyond just the volume of the show – which was considerable – the theme prevailed through the set, built around a giant speaker cabinet; the costumes (mostly neon and shiny); and the entire production itself: a gloriously over-the-top spectacle perfectly befitting the singer, who seems to produce chart-toppers by the dozen.
The show began with a blitzkrieg of video, as four hanging, shifting circular video screens joined four giant stationary ones is projecting Rihanna's arrival. She wore an electric blue mini-trenchcoat and hot pink stilleto boots with neon green heels and immediately belted out her Number One hit, "Only Girl (In the World)" from her 2010 album, also titled Loud.
Before the audience could catch its breath, the singer had tossed the trench, revealing a day-glo bikini, picked up a gang of matching day-glo-covered back-up dancers and shifted directly into "Disturbia," another Number One hit, this one from 2007's Good Girl Gone Bad – and then seamlessly segued into another hit, 2007's "Shut Up and Drive," replete with back-up dancers dressed as crash-test dummies bashing a neon-graffiti-covered car with bats.
Over nearly two hours – a very long set for such a busy production – Rihanna maintained a relentless pace, working her way through 24 songs, six different wardrobes and endless set changes, all without any significant energy dip. The deft production included several built-in musical and video interludes – including a staggering number of guitar solos – to keep from going dark during the changes.
One of the most impressive spectacles was a very erotic S&M-themed mini-set, launched with a fairly faithful cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki," during which Rihanna, dressed in a tuxedo and toting a cane, spanked, groped and pretended to smack three nearly nude female dancers. By the time she had transitioned into Loud's "S&M" – another Number One hit – Rihanna's tux had been stripped off to reveal a white bondage corset and she was wearing handcuffs. Nearly nude men and a female audience member were added to the mix before the whole thing ended (cutely) in a pillow fight.
In a military-themed mini-set including 2009 hit "Hard," Rihanna rode in atop a double-barreled pink tank that shot T-shirts into the crowd, flanked by sexy-soldier costumed dancers with pink rifles. When "Breakin' Dishes" segued into "Glamorous Life," the singer barreled to the back of the arena, where she rode a platform revealing Sheila E-style stand-up drums and played an impressive solo.
Soon, she was on to outfit six – a gold lamé mini-dress – and her encore, which moved from her Number One hit with Eminem, "Love the Way You Lie," to her Number One hit with Jay-Z, "Umbrella." It was understated compared to the rest of the show – with only a squadron of tuxedoed back-up dancers and a blizzard of pink confetti – but it was impressive that she was still singing and dancing at such a pace. It was a even more remarkable that there were still more huge hits left to play. She did each one proud.