The Independent: First Night: Whitney Houston, LG Arena, Birmingham
Tired and erratic but still giving it everything -
By Elisa Bray Wednesday, 14 April 2010
The question of whether Whitney Houston
would make this Birmingham show must have crossed the minds of most fans.
With her first three UK shows postponed due to a respiratory infection, many
wondered whether this signalled the toll taken on a star troubled by years
of drug addiction and her tempestuous marriage to Bobby Brown. But when the
soul pop diva appeared in a flamboyant white suit for her first show here in
11 years and started "For The Lovers", apprehension quickly evaporated.
Anyone who had read scathing reviews of Houston's post-rehab world tour's
opening shows in Australia, watched the evidence on YouTube or caught sight
of disappointed fans' reactions on news channels, might have regretted
paying upwards of £75 a ticket to see her perform in the UK. In Brisbane,
the 46 year-old star was booed for failing to reach the high notes which
catapulted her to stardom. "Exhausted", "breathless" and "disoriented" were
the damning verdicts of the critics and fans alike.
But five weeks have since passed, and
during that time Houston has clearly learned to pace her set to her own
advantage. Beginning with a handful of tracks from her new album, their
register lower than her early hits, she eased herself towards the high notes
later on. It was with the title track "I Look To You" that she won over the
crowd, especially when she signed her autograph for a fan. "Thank you for
your love, support and loyalty," she told a packed crowd. And as she seemed
to implore her listeners with the lyrics "After all that we've been through.
Who on earth can I turn to,", you could not help but admire a performer who,
in the face of the negative press, stood up tonight to give her all. And
Houston gave all she could.
If tonight was the first to attempt to recreate her early zest, she did not
quite make it. But it's still an impressive voice – and you feel lucky to
hear Houston live. After the first few numbers, without the backing band for
support, her breathlessness could be heard, while later in the night she
blamed her panting on the air conditioning.
If there were moments of tension, it was while the star was changing into a
suitably dazzling slinky dress. After a song sung by her brother, Gary,
"Queen of The Night" sung by three powerful-voiced backing singers, and a
video montage to "One Moment in Time", fans began to cry "Where are you
Whitney?" But it was the second half of her set for which she really saved
the hits – and her voice.
Some pared-down early hits, including "Saving All My Love", performed
seated, were tame versions of her former power. "All At Once" was one of her
most controlled numbers, though it was when she abandoned the chair to sing
"Step By Step", she regained the vigour of her former self. "Dance With
Somebody" had the crowd dancing. By the time she reached "I Will Always Love
You", her voice was tired, but she took relish in reaching the high note –
even though she stopped mid-song and turned her back on the audience to
Tonight was definitely a spectacle – and for the most part in a good way.
NEWSFILE: 14 APRIL 2010