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United Center
Chicago, IL
June 15, 2011
Rihanna Rihanna Rihanna

Story and photos by Andy Argyrakis

Nothing can replace the sweaty intimacy of a dance club, and though that's primary where Rihanna's music first found fame, she's since scored so much radio play that ticket demands require her to perform in an arena. Though it's always a difficult transition to take sample-infused R&B, hip-hop and pop to a massive venue, the help of a live backing band, entourage of dancers, plus extensive production and pageantry made the Loud tour seem more like a variety show than merely a concert.

Though Rihanna came through the confines of Chicago's United Center around this time last year, she's currently benefiting from a red hot record bearing the tour's name sake and appears to have grown more comfortable in her entertainer's skin. Granted, her vocals are modest at best and her personality lacks the immediate charisma of competitors like Beyonce or Lady Gaga, but the infectious songs spoke for themselves, while the endless barrage of action prevented even the harshest of skeptics from being bored.

After opening with the shiny synth popper "Only Girl (In the World)," Rihanna dove straight into the instant dance party "Disturbia" and brought a car on stage for her older, attitude-strewn R&B romp "Shut Up and Drive." Speaking of oldies, the 23-year-old gave the mostly youthful audience an education in classic soul with a naughty rendition of Prince's "Darling Nikki," and later, a mash-up of her own "Breakin' Dishes" with Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life."

Though it was impossible for her ultra-famous duet partners to appear in person (like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Eminem, T.I., Ne-Yo and Drake, to name a few), Rihanna performed her parts of "Run This Town," "Live Your Life" and "Hate That I Love You" to rapt applause and audience participation. Despite their enormous popularity, some of her own songs lacked similar magnetism, including the whiny "Unfaithful" and the downright annoying "Rude Boy."

Yet Rihanna's final stretch of solo songs was virtually unstoppable, starting with the throbbing "Don't Stop the Music," which made creative use of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and instantly filled the aisles. From there, she ducked out of the limelight with the ever so appropriate ballad "Take a Bow," returning for the piano accompanied contemplation "Love The Way You Lie (Part II)" and her ultimate anthem "Umbrella" to keep the party going well into the night.

Related articles:

Rihanna / Ke$ha - Concert review - Chicago, IL August 2010
Rihanna (B96 Summer Bash '06) - Concert review - Bridgeview, IL June 2006

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