By Scott T. Sterling
After a hit-filled night from a star-studded lineup of this summer’s biggest pop radio stars, Rihanna surprised a sold out Hollywood Bowl with an unannounced appearance to close the 2015 edition of CBS Radio’s annual We Can Survive benefit show.
Dressed in pinstriped trench coat over a bustier, she stormed through a handful of the biggest songs in her career, opening with 2015 single, “BBHMM,” followed by “Pour it Up” and older tracks including “Umbrella” and “We Found Love” before saying good night with “Diamonds” and a barrage of fireworks over the iconic Los Angeles venue.
Rihanna’s cameo followed a surprisingly varied set from this year’s breakout pop star, The Weeknd, who dropped in songs like the older “House of Balloons” and “High for This” from his early mix tape trilogy, along with “Tell Your Friends,” “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face” from his recent Billboard No. 1 full-length, Beauty Behind the Madness.
EDM mega-star Calvin Harris hit the stage running from his opening track, “Feel So Close,” spinning remixed versions of crowd favorites “I Need Your Love” and “Summer” throughout his set. Just a silhouette behind the decks amidst a bombastic light show, the worlds highest-earning DJ for the past two years pushed the Bowl’s sound system to its limits with his tactile beats.
Carson Daly appropriately introduced his co-star on The Voice, Adam Levine and Maroon 5, who are nothing less than a well-oiled machine in concert. While songs like “Animals” and “Moves Like Jagger” kept the audience on its feet and dancing, the set was highlighted by 2002 hit “This Love,” which made for a massive feel-good and nostalgic sing-along.
U.K. soul singer Sam Smith was a hit with the capacity crowd thanks to his big, emotional ballads, announcing that it was a special night: it would be his last U.S. show before he hits the studio to write and record his second album. Between “I’m Not the Only One” and “Stay with Me,” Smith shared a stirring version of his hit with Disclosure, “Latch,” rearranged with pianos and cello leading the tune.
Nick Jonas continued his ongoing bid to be the next Justin Timberlake for a new generation, working hard at projecting a cool, R&B swagger, particularly with the exaggerated funk of “Teacher,” which he mashed-up with Bell Biv Devoe’s 1990 smash, “Poison.” He even displayed some impressive guitar-paying chops during an extended version of his 2014 single, “Jealous.”
Demi Lovato, still fresh from her triumphant showing on Saturday Night Live earlier this month, showcased her recently released full-length, Confident, including the title track, “Cool for the Summer” and the first American performance of power ballad “For You.”
5 Seconds of Summer kicked off the concert with their exuberant pop-punk and shout-along choruses, playing “She’s Kinda Hot” and “Hey Everybody!” to a wave of high-pitched shrieks from their young fans, who were out in force.
In just three years, We Can Survive has evolved from an eclectic mix of female-fronted acts to this year’s streamlined pop extravaganza of buzz-heavy hit makers that will be a challenge to top in 2016.