This Is Nottingham: Review: Whitney Houston, Trent FM Arena
Thursday, April 15, 2010, 09:40
IN this age of instant
opinion, where anyone's hastily-typed thoughts can be accessed by the whole
world within seconds, it's difficult to know who to trust. This holds
especially true when the subject under discussion is the comeback tour by a
major star, re-entering the public arena after many years of well-documented
So do we trust Whitney Houston's diehard fans, who are all too ready to
excuse every fault? ("If you want the Whitney of twenty years ago, buy a CD"
fumed one supporter, angrily reacting to mixed reviews of Whitney's first
British show in eleven years, just two nights ago.) Or do we listen to
widely read gossip websites such as Holy Moly, who pronounced her Birmingham
show "a disaster"?
If you had witnessed last night's astonishing performance at the Trent FM
Arena, then you might have found it hard to have much sympathy with the
cynics. For contrary to many people's expectations, Whitney Houston
delivered a powerful, passionate performance to a crowd that was
overwhelmingly on her side.
For the first forty minutes of the show, which were dominated by tracks from
her recent album I Look To You, the 46-year-old star was on almost flawless
form unless you count a fluffed introduction to one of the older songs.
("Let me take you back to nineteen
I don't know!" she giggled.)
That aside, she hit every note, navigating every rhythmic twist and turn
with assured dexterity, and maintaining a commanding stage presence.
A slightly ragged My Love Is Your Love was saved by an emotionally charged
final section, which saw Whitney obsessively repeating the phrase "Are you
with me?" with ever-increasing intensity.
"I have no tricks I hope you can handle that", she told us, pointing to
the simple stage set-up behind her. "I have no costumes, I have no drag",
she announced although this didn't stop her from disappearing for a
costume change that lasted nearly twelve minutes, while the backing singers
(including Whitney's brother Gary) performed in her absence.
The second half of the show began with a lengthy acoustic section. Grouped
together at the front of the stage, the musicians clustered around the
seated singer, who began with an emotional tribute to Michael Jackson.
From this point onwards, the eccentricities began to emerge. Saving All My
Love For You was interrupted for a conversation with a woman in the front
row, who expressed her admiration for Whitney's shoes. The shoes were
examined at some length, as Whitney bent over and began to stroke her
ankles. The song resumed, only to stall again at the sight of two punters
returning to their seats. ("I see you got beer!" made for an interesting
Interruptions over, the singer became ever more immersed in her performance.
Scarcely registering our presence, she picked at a loose thread on her
sequinned frock, while taking ever bolder risks with her interpretations
improvising, freestyling, playing with melodies and rhythms, and turning the
cavernous arena into an intimate cabaret club.
As the show approached its climax, the old Eighties dance hits were finally
given an airing. I Wanna Dance With Somebody and How Will I Know got the
crowd dancing, singing and clapping along but the star herself seemed
almost disinterested in this lighter, poppier material, leaving the choruses
of both songs to her backing singers. Or was this simply a case of
exhaustion beginning to take its toll?
If so, then perhaps this would explain the bizarre rendition of I Will
Always Love You that closed the main set. As with the earlier acoustic
section, Whitney attempted to play daring games with her best known vocal
performance but by this time, the cracks were starting to show. The song
needed discipline and control, rather than silly false endings and awkwardly
Nevertheless, all the high notes were hit even if we had to wait an
eternity for some of them. Meanwhile, none of this stopped the crowd from
roaring their encouragement throughout the song, willing their idol to last
the course and finish the job.
Perhaps the outraged fan had got it right after all. If all you want is the
Whitney of 20 years ago the remote, somewhat bland superstar, obediently
playing her role then perhaps you should stick with those old CDs. But if
you would rather have the Whitney of 2010 flawed at times, but freed from
her demons and calling her own tune, in her own unique way then last
night's show would have sent you home beaming with delight, and thoroughly
For the Lovers
Nothin' But Love
I Look to You
My Love Is Your Love
Like I Never Left
It's Not Right But It's Okay
For the Love of You (performed by Gary Houston)
Queen of the Night (performed by backing vocalists)
A Song For You
Saving All My Love For You
Greatest Love of All
All At Once
I Learned from the Best
Step By Step
I Love the Lord
I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)
How Will I Know
I Will Always Love You
Million Dollar Bill
NEWSFILE: 15 APRIL 2010