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Better late than never? Fans forgive Rihanna, she returns the love

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The opening minutes of the concert came late, very late for such an important date, but if this brought any stress to a superstar's life, she kept it hidden behind her ferocious gaze. See, Rihanna's latest album is called Unapologetic, and so Rihanna did not apologize.

Instead, the 25-year-old megastar pursed her mulberry-painted lips to the crowd. They greeted her with a rolling cheer that was equal parts excitement and relief, and she smiled. "I just want everybody to say, 'F Customs,'" Rihanna said, and the crowd roared.

See, the trucks carrying the luxurious stage for Rihanna's Diamonds Tour were late, held up -- the singer tweeted earlier in the day -- at the border. Because the stage was late, the show was late, and 13,000 people waited at the MTS Centre for almost 90 extra minutes for the feisty pop diva to take the stage.

Then opener A$AP Rocky knocked out his set, and fans had a little hope, and then at 10:51 p.m., the lights finally went out. And there she was, clad in an embroidered Givenchy cloak and standing alone at the front of the stage, and she started to sing: a little intro, and then Phresh Out the Runway, and all the sauce and sass that tune could bring.

So it was on, then, it happened, just a little less as planned. "Right off the top, your... energy is incredible," Rihanna said, after wrapping up Talk That Talk. "It's 11 o'clock at night... every last one of you showed up, and you stayed, you make this... possible. Thank you so much, I love you... Winnipeg's always so special to me. This next song is just for you."

It wasn't just for us, really -- Pour It Up is a regular song on the tour -- but the logistics of big pop spectacles don't lend themselves to spontaneity. Or to authenticity, and maybe it's the late-night talking, but it seemed that fans who waited so long deserved better than to see her standing with her eyes closed, half-singing 2007 hit Umbrella while a vocal track shouldered most of the load.

It wasn't the only time that happened. Fans did have a lot to look at, though.

There was the way her hips, clad in a costume parade of leather and red-stretch fabric and sometimes nothing at all, undulated to the beat. There were the jets of flame that exploded from the faux-marble stage during the wrenching ballad What Now. She sang that song beautifully, sweat arcing down a brow contorted from the passion of it all.

There were many of these striking little moments. Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a powerful woman, and a born performer; she knows how to be seen.

Here's something interesting, though: for all the eye candy on the stage and on her wardrobe rack, for all the dancers twisting and thrusting around the edges of her spotlight, she came most alive in the closing minutes of the show, when she plunged down into the crowd during party-starter We Found Love. She stayed there deep into the throbbing beats of S&M.

There, in the heart and the heat and sweat of it all, she shimmied her hips and grinned. It was the first time in over 70 minutes that nothing in that smile seemed to hint that it was just for show. Surrounded by her fans, she looked the most exquisitely free.

That moment, it was worth waiting for.

As was this: after a hit-mix dance party to close the main set, Rihanna returned to the stage in a glittering silver outfit and stood alone at the microphone. Her voice purred through a pretty and perfect rendition of Stay, and then she turned to the crowd and spoke to them again: still no apologies, but just a sweet farewell.

"I can't thank you enough for just staying here and making the show possible," she said, and her voice caught a little bit as the lights came up on 13,000 glowing faces. "I won't forget you for this. Thank you so much. You are a unique group of human beings. I love you."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Fans in Winnipeg greeted superstar Rihanna with deafening cheers when she hit the stage at the MTS Centre on March 25.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2013 D3

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Updated on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 10:12 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds fact box, adds slideshow

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