Just what exactly does Barbadian R&B pop queen Rihanna have to do with the Super Bowl? About as much as Fall Out Boy. Yet there both acts were, playing to a hyped-up crowd on Thursday night at Tampa’s Ford Amphitheater for the VH1-broadcast Pepsi Super Bowl Smash show that served as the unofficial kickoff of Super Bowl XLIII weekend.
The one-hour special, hosted for the second year by easily excited actor Jerry O’Connell and a series of NFL guests, kicked off with a mini-set from FOB. The band stormed out to play “I Don’t Care” with their new signature LED-flickering guitars on a huge stage that featured a massive screen with a seizure-inducing series of black-and-white strobe patterns. The band didn’t say much as they plowed into their new single, “America’s Suitehearts,” during which they were backed by multiple giant red, white and blue images of singer Patrick Stump. At one point, bassist Pete Wentz tossed aside his instrument and leaned out into the crowd to high-five some of the screaming girls down front.
Meat-and-potatoes rockers Lifehouse followed with a mid-show set that included their recent singles “First Time” and “Broken.” Rihanna closed the broadcast, wearing an all-black outfit that was a mixture of bondage gear and a space-age hockey uniform as she performed a string of her hits.
The set opened with a series of images on the big screen giving way to Ri-Ri appearing at the top of a set of stairs wearing thigh-high boots, a black bikini top with a high-waisted bottom and a black overcoat adorned with hanging straps. As she’s done often live, she spiked a hard-rocking take on goth pop single “Disturbia” with a bit of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” as flames shot up across the front of the stage.
She then dove straight into “Breakin’ Dishes” without taking a breath, joined by a pair of backup dancers with legs up to there wearing black leather jackets, red bikini tops and black hot pants that matched Rihanna’s.
After some more football-related banter from O’Connell, Rihanna closed the show with a slow-grind take through “Rehab” and an amped-up “Shut Up and Drive,” which featured a chair dance, lots of funky wah-wah and screaming guitar solos, and graphics of spinning rims and neon speed gauges on the mega screens.