Rihanna, A$AP Rocky Toyota Center November 14, 2013
Music is about connections. It's about finding that song you love, the one that moves you, the one that makes you want to belt it out as loud as you can.
When it comes to a body of work, Rihanna may have the strongest catalog of music of any of the female pop stars of this century. No, she doesn't have a classic album (a byproduct of churning out seven of them since 2005), but what she does have is a collection of singles and guest appearances that rivals anyone working in modern music.
More importantly, because the bulk of her songs about love won and lost, her music is easy for the average music fan to identify with.
It's music for the masses, the type of songs that make a person turn to a friend and say, "this is my song."
Thursday night at the Toyota Center, a whole bunch of people got to hear their songs.
When Rihanna moves, it's with a level of confidence few living individuals possess. You may not think swag is a thing that exists, but watching her come down the ramp to "Phresh Out the Runway" like a boxer ready for a title fight provides a concrete example that swag is a real thing. With every strut, every look, and every motion to her crotch (all three happened quite frequently), the crowd would roar.
With that much crowd adoration, it's pretty easy to look past the fact that she's not singing every hook. Clearly she can sing, but on the faster tracks she becomes more of a ringmaster to a celebration than an artist trying to prove her vocal gymnastics.
That's not to say she can't sing live. For those songs when things slowed down she could hit every note at will, belting out a particularly strong version of "What Now" and sounding pretty fantastic on "Loveeeeeee Song."
Then there's that thing where she performs "Umbrella" and "All of the Lights" back to back; yeah, there's nothing bad about hearing two of the best hooks of the last decade right next to each other.
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Now, Rihanna was not the only star to hit the stage Thursday night. Opening the show with a fantastic set was A$AP Rocky, whose love for Houston was on full display. From name-dropping Devin the Dude, sending love to Port Arthur, and having his DJ spin some Geto Boys, it was obvious he was happy to be back in the city that inspires him.
His set was a good mix of chopped-and-screwed-inspired slowness and upbeat body movers. With the A$AP Mob behind him, be bounced across the stage, tearing in to tracks like "Wild for the Night" and A$AP Ferg's "Shabba." He was also endearingly positive, multiple times talking about how happy he was to be performing for the crowd and how seeing so many different people in one room inspired him.
Talented and charming, A$AP delivered the type of set that most headliners would dread following. Of course, when you command the type of adoration that Rihanna does, you don't really have much to worry about. She's not out to prove she's the best singer or the best dancer or the biggest name in music; she's just out to give the people what they want.
And sometimes that kind of thing is best for business. Not everyone wants a motivational speech or a parade of corporate endorsements that reinforce just how famous the person onstage is. Most of the time they just want to hear their song.
Rihanna may not be saving the world or taking pop music to new artistic heights, but she sings "Diamonds," and sometimes a perfect pop song is all you need.
Personal Bias: Concerning Rihanna, I'm rather disappointed she didn't play "Shut Up and Drive" since I've watched Wreck-It Ralph half a dozen times this year. Concerning A$AP, "Wild For the Night" was one of my picks for the song of the Summer.
The Crowd: I'm not sure I've seen a more fashionable crowd this year, or at least one that thought they were fashionable. Also, far too many people started leaving before the encore and had to head back to their seats. It's 2013 -- people still don't know how that works?
Overheard In the Crowd: "I have underwear older than you. That is scary." This was followed up a few minutes later with, "I have just met the black version of me!"
Random Notebook Dump: Did not expect to see a wrestling montage at any point during the night, but there it was in the background graphics for "Jump." Not sure where the video came from, but I saw at least one enziguri.
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