Live: Rihanna Drops By Hammerstein Ballroom
Rihanna these days is basically carrying on as though she's fronting Nine Inch Nails. And who can blame her. Navigate a truly chaotic, hey-quit-pushing scene outside the Hammerstein (a free show, you see, courtesy of MySpace) and you're greeted by a stage set of creepy armless mannequins and arbitrary stacks of televisions: very Buzz Bin-era MTV. She emerges in a regal getup that, given my lack of fashion acumen, I am only able to describe in two words (silver, pantsless), a giant video screen proffering more visual creepiness behind her (more mannequins, for example, these ones with their heads on fire). And soon, as she's leading a full aggro-goth band through smash pop-r&b sensation of yore "Umbrella," surly power chords overpowering everything, this is what pops in my head.
In a brisk, workmanlike, whattya-want-it-was-a-free-show 40 minutes, this industrial diva guise works for and against her, and us. We are promoting a new album, of course, so she reclines on a slowly rotating throne for the chilling ballad "Russian Roulette," and struts around braying "Where them bloggers at?" for the still quite badass I'm-a-badass anthem "Hard." (No cameo from Jeezy, or anyone else, though she dutifully runs through the hooks of "Run This Town" and "Live Your Life" anyway.)
A little overzealous "Dirty Diana" guitar-shredding suits this sort of thing just fine. But a more frivolous, ostensibly lighthearted tune like "Don't Stop the Music" is rendered stiff and leaden and joyless by all the growly macho riffage. The crowd is bummed out by the brief, encore-less state of affairs, but any longer and it would've felt like a dirge. I will feel better when this whole Ministry/Saw VI vibe eases up a little. I suspect she will, too.