The date: Aug. 14, 2007
The venue: Highline Ballroom, New York
The crowd: An attractive mix of junior media buyers and under-30s from People and CoverGirl
The food: When there's an open bar with champagne and mixed drinks, Freeloader tends to forget that eating is an option.
The bar: You name it, you could drink it. An open bar with vodka, gin, champagne, Red Bull -- the works. It had been a few weeks since Freeloader's been around an open bar, so we were easily excitable.
The swag: Does a complimentary copy of this week's People count?
If you're anything like Freeloader, chances are you've spent at least 10 seconds of your summer singing along to "Umbrella," the impossibly catchy song by Rihanna that turns a seemingly simple weather prop into an 11-syllable catch phrase (come on, you know how it goes -- "um-be-rella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh"). But Freeloader is also an admittedly huge fan of Ms. Rihanna's entire new album "Good Girl Gone Bad," so we made sure to "Shut Up and Drive" over to the perky singer's gig at the Highline Ballroom, brought to us by People magazine and CoverGirl cosmetics.
Lest you think Freeloader spent the whole event gushing over Rihanna, let's be reasonable. We paid just as much attention to the open bar.
But then again, so did everyone else. The downside to an all-you-can-drink buffet is the sheer number of rounds people will manage to consume in front of you while you wait to order your vodka cranberry. This Freeloader witnessed one girl down a vodka tonic, a shot of Tanqueray and place an order for a third cocktail before a single glass had even touched our lips. How were we supposed to properly sing along to all the songs without getting properly liquored up first? Thirty minutes and three drinks later, we were singing a different tune.
Then the lights flickered, two backup singers emerged from the darkness and took the stage along with a pink-haired keyboardist and a dude in a pit-bull shirt and guitar.
And almost without notice, there she was. Strutting onstage in a slinky black-and-white cocktail dress -- with a big gold bow wrapped around the waist -- Rihanna was certainly dressed to impress. But as she started the opening trills to her Justin Timberlake-penned track "Rehab" (unfortunately, not a tribute to Lindsay Lohan, or Amy Winehouse, for that matter) while perched atop a center-stage stool, one thing became apparent: Rihanna wasn't dancing.
An avid concertgoer, Freeloader normally pooh-poohs the thought of musicians having to compensate for their hastily written songs with big, showy dance numbers. But since we had invested large amounts of time and free alcohol into seeing the woman who pranced around in fake rain for her "Umbrella" music video, we expected at least one hip thrust or rump shake. Maybe Rihanna doesn't "do" dancing when she plays corporate gigs, Freeloader pondered. Or perhaps she just wanted to make sure lyrics like "You look like you can handle what's under my hood/You keep saying that you will, boy, I wish you would" got the proper attention they deserved.
But four songs in, when she told the crowd, "You guys are looking like you're having a good time. You make me wanna get off this chair," our eyes drifted downward. The poor girl had sprained her ankle! (Note to fellow Freeloaders: never write off musical guests as divas until you've done a thorough check of all their appendages.) Had the foot in question not been wrapped so thoroughly, Freeloader would have made some protest to the effect of "I'm not taking my first Rihanna concert sitting down!" But now that we've seen Beyonce fall down the stairs on YouTube, we realize these things can happen when you're a globe-trotting R&B songstress.
But to her credit, Rihanna was able to elicit an impressive amount of stage presence from her Stool of Wonder. During her hit "Tainted Love" mashup "S.O.S.," for example, she exhibited an impressive command of the artful hair-toss (waiting until the next coy line before flicking her bangs out of her face.) She also knows just when to share her microphone with the crowd during her hits (including one of her "ellas" during "Umbrella"), so as not to alienate the fans. For a 19-year-old with three albums under her gold-hued belt, that's no small feat.
Freeloader cheered our approval to our favorite Barbados-born songstress once, then made a beeline to the bar for one last free drink. Rihanna concerts will come and go, but you never know when that next open bar may be.