Rihanna and A$AP Rocky at Xcel Energy Center, 3/24/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Tony Nelson
With A$AP Rocky
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Sunday, March 24, 2013

Does naming an album Unapologetic mean you never have to say you're sorry? Pop and R&B megastar Rihanna hit the stage at Xcel a little late (9:50 p.m. or so), but that wasn't the problem. The 10,000 devoted fans from around the upper Midwest would've waited much longer. The singer often abbreviated herself -- in song length and effort. She performed "Rockstar 101," but should retake the course herself.

See Also:
Slideshow: Rihanna at Xcel Energy Center, 3/24/13
Rihanna and Cee Lo Green at Xcel Energy Center, 6/16/11

It's understood that Barbados-bred Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a physically stunning human. When not fluttering shut, her eyes were conduits of emotion that depicted the range of pleasure and sorrow of everyone at the Xcel. Even if few spoken words escaped them, her purple-painted lips said even more with the occasional smile -- especially when accompanied by a long-armed wave. Her inked-up limbs and torso, her flowing hair with one side shaved close, her gyrating pelvis, her swaggering gait, her bold costuming, and sometimes her voice were all beyond the audience's grasp. They screamed for more, they begged, they wept, and though most would've been pleased to just say they'd been in a room with Rihanna for a couple hours, they still deserved more from someone who at brief moments took command of all her faculties.

Photo by Tony Nelson
Leading up was the Harlem rap superstar-in-the-making A$AP Rocky. His stage was [in our best Trinidad James voice] all white everything. Dressed in an ublemished windbreaker, he limped out with a pale cane, and claimed an ivory throne at the center of it all. It was a menacing set, and emphasized the most bass-brutal aspects of the beats backing his already crude rhymes -- summed up in the slow, grinding "PMW (All I Really Need)." "Pussy, money, weed/ that's all a n**** need," he repeated, with hype man A$AP Ferg churning out a chant that amounted to "A$AP" or "hands up," but slurred enough that it could be either. With strobes firing, "Jodye" was a monstrous experience that probably gave nightmares to more than a few concerned mothers in the crowd. But the room only truly exploded for the final song of his 40-minute set, "Fuckin' Problems." As "SLEAZE PLEASE" flashed on the screens on either side of his stage, Rocky unloaded his energy clip, showing a softer side even if to just proclaim his love for "bad bitches."

The choice of Rocky for an opener gave the night a blunt, drugged-out feel, and much of Rihanna's performance continued in that vein. Both she and Rocky have pulled out of dates on this tour so far due to illness, and the bug appeared to be still affecting her voice and willingness to move. She appeared at the front of the stage in a long black robe for the second half of the confessional "Love Without Tragedy/ Mother Mary." Then, the stage opened up to reveal a team of dancers, and a full band, including the thrashing former Extreme axeman Nuno Bettencourt.

In dark boots that were nearly the length of her legs, Rihanna began moving to the corners of her stage. With a flirtatious "Talk That Talk" being the notable exception, the songs in the first segment were dark, slow, and exuded coldness. "Pour It Up" is essentially a sung version of one of A$AP's melodramatic tales of excess, and it was one of plenty of moments where Rih Rih let her midsection and her groping hands do the talking instead of her face.


Photos by Tony Nelson
It would seem that performing "Cockiness (Love It)" live would be an opportune moment to bring Rocky back out for a collaborative live recreation of their track together. The flame to the clever innuendo was not to be. And a codeine-fueled haziness truly set in on "Numb," which coated the many screens framing the stage with swirling smoke. For much of it, Rihanna semi-sang it, and seemed to give over to her backing track, which happened at multiple points in the night. As she (or a recording of her) repeated "I'm going numb" with no expression, it felt like the whole thing could collapse as she disappeared into the floor for a costume change. Numbness was what we felt in the seats. Any poignancy in the moment was unintentional.

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