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Airborne mutiny on Rihanna's 7-7-7 tour

©Markus Schreiber
Rihanna in Berlin (©Markus Schreiber/AP)

Five days in, embedded media members start streaking and freaking on the promo odyssey

By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music

"I don't know how we're keeping it all together" -- one of the 7-7-7 organizers

It's Day 5, and the wheels have officially fallen off the tour. After traveling to Berlin from Paris in the early afternoon and Rihanna, once again, going on two hours late, we leave for London at 4 a.m.

And then it happens. A plane full of jet-lagged, exhausted, overserved journalists, fed up with no access to Rihanna for five days, begins to rebel. It starts when a cameraman for one of the Australian crews streaks up one side the plane and down the other. We're pretty sure that kind of behavior gets you tossed off a commercial flight, but it's cause for high celebration here.

His move unleashes something in the rest of us, and we all stand on our seats and start chanting for Rihanna. When that gets no response, we switch to, "Just one quote," and, "Save our jobs," and then, "Occupy 7-7-7." It's verging on pandemonium in the sky and the flight attendants just let it ride. Rihanna's handlers come to survey the scene and decide there's no way they're bringing their precious cargo back now.

Rihanna's 7-7-7 tour Day 4: How she recruits impassioned fans

We're at the tail end of the trip with only London and New York to go, and we're counting the casualties: Several folks have developed the airplane equivalent of kennel cough, and it feels a little bit like we're being held hostage. One of the journalists has a harmonica on the plane and breaks into a blues riff that could accompany a chain gang on Parchman Farm.

The near-riot occurs because Rihanna has not set foot in the coach cabin where the members of the media are seated since Day 1 in Los Angeles. Other than onstage, there's been no RiRi sighting since baggage check in Toronto. The plane press conferences that were dangled in front of journalists before the trip started have not materialized and we're starved for things to write about. She has, however, shown up between 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. for two afterparties, including one in Paris with Akon, Diddy, Pharrell and Omarion. (Is there some kind of secret bat signal that goes up to alert celebs that they're in the same city and there's champagne being poured?)

Since no one is getting interviews with Rihanna, we checked in with two members of her band to see how they're faring.

Nuno Bettencourt, Rihanna's guitarist for the past three years, admits that playing seven shows in seven days can be arduous, but he has a sense of perspective: "It's not as hard as it would be to do seven days of construction." Even for the band, though, this is a tough slog, since they don't normally play more than three or four days in a row. Bettencourt says Rihanna was a little worried about her voice after Mexico City, but she's sounded fine onstage since then.

Photo gallery: Rihanna in focus

If Bettencourt's name sounds familiar, he was the guitarist for Extreme ("Words Can Say," "Hole in My Heart") and, surprisingly, he says playing for Rihanna is not that different than playing with the '90s rock outfit; however, he says he was initially surprised to get the offer from Rihanna. "When they asked me, I said, 'Why?' 'There's not a lot of guitars on her records. We want the live shows to have a little more of a rock sound.'"

Adam Blackstone, Rihanna's co-musical director, bassist and one of the most good-spirited people on the trip, says exhaustion is starting to set in: "I'm tired right now and everything is running together." Blackstone, who is also Kanye West's musical director, began working with Rihanna in March. "Since I came in, we definitely, definitely [have tried] to make it a more live experience," Blackstone says. "I've tried to bring more of a flow and a consistent energy."

Though the live show incorporates the synth and string lines that are staples on the records, Blackstone stresses that the bulk of what we are hearing is live. Though Rihanna's vocals on some of the choruses have been prerecorded and are blended with the backup singers' vocals -- so she can interact with the crowd more -- he says she is singing all of the verses live.

Blackstone, who's known Rihanna since she opened for West in 2007, says she grows more confident as a vocalist every day: "She's come into her own.

A highlight of the shows has been an acoustic segment where Rihanna does a medley of "Unfaithful," "Take a Bow" and "Hate That I Love You." Blackstone thinks Rihanna couldn't have done the acoustic segment previously, but that her faith in her own vocal abilities has increased. "She's naked out there. The only thing that's carrying [the band] is her. People seem mesmerized that she can connect on that level." Blackstone hopes to incorporate the acoustic segment into the arena tour when it starts in March.

Get caught up on the tour with MSN Music's 7-7-7 hub

As the traveling circus known as the 7-7-7 tour continues, Bettencourt says he's glad that the press is along, if nothing else to express to people that it's not as glamorous as it seems, even though this kind of extreme touring is not normal. As glitzy as our moving rock show in the sky seems, nothing compares to a good old tour bus. "This is supposed to be cushy, but there's a lot of waiting," Bettencourt says. "This is stuff you'd never do on tour. The bus is much easier. It's our home."

Next stop: London and then New York.

Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music,, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.

Keep up with MSN Music. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Nov 20, 2012 12:52AM

good story..nobody cares...go get beat on again..and then go back to him..your such a good role model..please quit talking about her like we did heidi and spencer..thanks!


Nov 19, 2012 10:25PM
I loathe Rihanna.  She is so low class and sleazy.  I doubt she will live to see 40 - she is so self destructive and hedonistic.
Nov 19, 2012 7:38PM
She is disgusting, arrogant, and most of all, a slut that thinks she is the best.  NOT!!!!
Nov 19, 2012 6:33PM
Me I work all the time detailing cars. WHO the hell is RiRi?????? geez I need to get a life i guess.
Nov 19, 2012 6:26PM
The same way Justin Bieber, Kriten Stewart is Irrelevant.  The only difference - Rihanna is better to look at..
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