Rihanna at the X: late and lackluster

JON BREAM | Updated 3/25/2013

REVIEW: Rihanna hit the stage 50 minutes late Sunday at the Xcel and, more significantly, delivered a disappointing performance.

Pop diva Rihanna has amassed 10 No. 1 pop singles, seven Grammys, 28.9 million Twitter followers, 68 million Facebook likes — and more and more haters.

It’s not just those who are upset because she returned to her boyfriend, R&B star Chris Brown, after he was convicted of beating her up on the eve of the Grammys in 2009. But it’s those people at a Chicago high school where on Friday Rihanna showed up nearly five hours tardy for a charity appearance — and then stayed a scant few minutes. It’s those people in Toronto where she took the stage two hours late this month.

Add me to the list, not because of her re-hooking up with Brown (that’s her business and issues) but because Rihanna hit the stage 50 minutes late Sunday at Xcel Energy Center and, more significantly, delivered a disappointing performance that lacked energy, pizzaz and star turns.

Compared to her dazzlingly sexy show in 2011 at Target Center, this one had too little Rihanna. Indeed, there were fewer props (no tanks, elaborate cages or floating pianos) and more lip syncing. The bombshell from Barbados was in the spotlight plenty, strutting her stuff (not dancing) and trying to play the sexpot by grabbing her crotch, rubbing her boobs and wagging her tongue.

Now a honey-haired hottie compared to the ravishing redhead last time, the 25-year-old was strikingly short on enthusiasm and energy, sitting down in mid-song on a couple of occasions, and standing like a statue during the ballad section featuring “Love the Way You Lie” and “Hate That I Love You.”

Perhaps it was as much the conception and pacing of the show as it was the performer. Her 100-minute program was divided into five sections — roughly raunch, reggae, pop, ballads and club bangers — with guitarist Nuno Bettencourt (formerly of Extreme) offering instrumental interludes.

It wasn’t until the final segment that Rihanna became the diva that the 10,000 fans — who looked like the crowd in line on Saturday nights at Club New York in downtown Minneapolis — wanted. She cut loose on the festive “We Found Love,” finding her way into the crowd but not finding her high notes, which she left to her backup singers or a recording.

She kept the party going with “S&M,” without the suggestive imagery of 2011, and the super-loud, hard-hitting “Only Girl in the World” (complete with green lasers and backup dancers dancing in the dark).

She lacked the kind of consistent energy and sense of fun on “Don’t Stop the Music,” which made it such a sensation on her last tour. However, she bounced back with “Where Have You Been” and its banging beats.

After all that emphasis on beats and entertainment, the encore was time for Rihanna to show off her considerable and often underrated voice. “Stay,” a piano ballad that was her most recent hit, was filled with vocal control, nuance and strength. For the closing “Diamonds,” her most recent No. 1 hit, she radiated joy, her voice sparkling as brilliantly as her silver sequined-and-gray pants suit.

Rihanna is only three weeks into her six-month Diamonds World Tour. So she has time to work on the show’s pacing and her energy — and getting to work on time.

Setlist:

Phresh Out the Runway / Birthday Cake/ Talk That Talk / Pour It Up/ Cockiness / Numb interlude You Da One / Man Down/ No Love Allowed / Rude Boy / What’s My Name interlude Jump / Umbrella/ All of the Lights / Rockstar 101 / What Now interlude Loveeee Song / Love the Way You Lie / Take a Bow / Cold Case Love/ Hate That I Love You interlude We Found Love / S&M / Only Girl in the World / Don’t Stop the Music / Where Have You Been ENCORE Stay / Diamonds