There was a sign posted on the entrance doors of the Wells Fargo Center, warning fans that strobe lights would be a part of Thursday night's show featuring Rihanna.
The dizzying lights, coupled with fiery explosions on-stage during "Jump," sometimes drowned out the singer's vocal chords, still recovering from a bout with laryngitis that canceled tour stops in Boston and Baltimore. Rihanna was sipping from a water bottle by her fourth song, "Talk That Talk," but she didn't let it spoil the night for members of Rihanna Navy.
"Philly, what up!?," Rihanna shouted Thursday, in what was supposed to be stop No. 4 on her sold-out Diamonds World Tour. "I love coming to Philadelphia, and I don't say that to every city on the tour. I love you guys, y'all crazy as fuck!"
Rihanna's performance was what we've come to expect from the Barbadian beauty: lavish, sexually charged and unapologetic. She controlled the stage, which was transformed into a Roman estate for her first few numbers, with seductive hip movements and violent, pelvic gyrations (she clearly took notes on Beyonce at the Super Bowl).
At one point, right in the middle of "Cake," she pointed both hands at her lady parts and asked, "Do you want to put your name on it? Then put your mother fucking name on it."
While Rihanna's voice never really wavered, the pop star appeared to be making a conscious effort to protect her million-dollar pipes. She let prerecorded track vocals do the heavy lifting on quite a few chart-toppers, including "Umbrella," "Cockiness," and "Numb," which was highlighted by keyboard and guitar solos.
The Rihanna Lap Dance, a signature on her Loud Tour, was scrapped. However, she did walk into the front row and mix it up with fans during "We Found Love." The crowd — a diverse one featuring everything from high school girls in fishnets and high heels to 40-somethings and their kids — feasted on every minute as it brushed up on its idol, hoping to steal a bead of sweat from her overworked body.
Rihanna played for 1 hour, 45 minutes with limited interruption, save six quick wardrobe changes, as she belted out her entire catalog. In "What's My Name," she conveniently skipped over Drake's prerecorded vocals (interestingly, Drake left Rihanna's precorded vocals in on the same track at the Made In America festival last summer) and completely omitted her duet with Chris Brown, "Nobody's Business," from the set.
After "Rude Boy," Rihanna proclaimed, with her Caribbean accent more noticeable than usual. "If you ain't having a good time, then that sucks because I'm having a fucking great time ... and you paid to be here."
The most powerful moment came when Rihanna performed, "What Now." It was only the second time she had performed it live (first was last week in Buffalo), a fact she made sure to mention. She owned every lyric, with no backup help, on a song that could serve as the soundtrack to her crazy, pour-it-up, love-starved lifestyle.
Rihanna closed the show with two hits off her newest album, Unapologetic. Wearing a dress inspired by Jennifer Lopez at the 2000 Grammy Awards (shiny and sequined, with plenty of side boob on display), she crooned "Stay" and "Diamonds" before an amped-up guitar solo sent the crowd into the cold night.
"Philadelphia, I will always come back here," she said. "I love it here."
Rocky wins over Philly
Rakim Mayer, better known as A$AP Rocky, probably should have been overwhelmed by the moment. Opening for Rihanna, in the middle of a worldwide tour, two months after his debut album dropped, could have spelled fuckin' problems (see what we did there?).
It didn't. The 24-year-old, clad in all white from cap to sneakers, delivered on his promise to be the country's No. 1 MC (MTV ranked him No. 8 on its most recent list).
Rocky, who brought out and sat in a white throne, had the guys reaching for the Flyers banners in the rafters on "Wild for the Night" and the ladies screaming on "Fashion Killa." He also left a few mothers and daughters with a nice conversation for the car ride home after throwing down, "PMW [Pussy, Money, Weed]." (Hey, mom, this was a rap concert, what did you expect?)
"Y'all shoulda seen the looks on the parents' faces for that one," Rocky joked.
Rocky's set lasted for 45 minutes and ended it with his breakout, collab hit (with Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar — none were present Thursday), "Fuckin' Problems" and mixtape anthem, "Peso."