Such deviations from the script were rare. The set list for Thursday's show duplicated the one from the tour opener in Buffalo, although with the second and third sections transposed. Moving up the comparatively spartan section built around the reggae of Rihanna's native Barbados, and saving the jet-fueled pop of "Jump" might have given her a slight breather. But with a tour currently scheduled to run through October, some early-stage tweaking is par for the course.
Depending on whom you ask, Rihanna is either an endlessly versatile performer or a vacant vessel, a chameleon or a cipher. That's as true of her life as of her art, especially when it comes to her troubling relationship with the performer Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to assaulting her in 2009. Their on-again/off-again relationship is currently on, although "Nobody's Business," the defiant but confused duet with Brown from her album Unapologetic, was notably absent from the set. Brown wasn't there, of course, but neither were Kanye West, Eminem, or Drake, which didn't stop Rihanna from performing her part of their recorded collaborations.
Rihanna outsourced the high notes of "Umbrella" to her backing singers, often letting them carry the song, but she mouthed the words off-mike like a fan with the best seat in the house.
The show lacked an animating intelligence that might have united its disparate strands, and at times the scattershot style seemed random, almost desperate. Why, for example, did the visuals for "Rockstar 101" feature slasher-movie clips and a red-tinged Rihanna wielding a chain saw? (Another segment featured her wearing a jumpsuit akin to Uma Thurman's Kill Bill getup; perhaps she has been watching too much Quentin Tarantino.) But Rihanna gave herself equally to every new arrangement. She may not know who she is, but she knows where she wants to be.