Vegas Review

[Las Vegas Review Journal Concert Review]

Couple show it's their prerogative to be happy

Pair set out to put drug rumors to rest



Was Whitney Houston singing as though she had something to prove Friday night, or just showing off? It was likely a bit of both, but proof is still proof.

The now-infamous singer and her husband Bobby Brown told their Aladdin concert hall audience Friday that "we decided that we would finally do a show together," but Brown also let slip that it was a show the two want to take on tour.

If so, they had to use Friday's isolated concert to put drug rumors to rest. They had to show promoters and venues burned by cancellations that they were healthy and capable of pulling off a gig on time and in good voice.

In other words, their careers were on the line. This was drama. Redemption. "Rocky IV," after nearly a year of getting smacked around by the big bad Russian.

Houston rose to the drama, and came roaring back with the cocksure bravado of a jail-sprung Mike Tyson. Brown, the real jailbird of the marriage, was more like Buster Douglas. But then, judging from the crowd, he had the raw deal going in.

Though marriage united them, Bobby and Whitney never had exactly the same audience. And the situation was even more extreme on Friday; the number of retirement-age folks in jackets and ties suggested the Aladdin invited a lot of its high-rollers to the event after initially slow ticket sales.

And Brown showed them the same tired hip-swiveling he's been doing since 1989. It was like a member of 'N Sync performing for the parents of today's fans -- 10 years from now. Worse still, the dubious decision to come out firing with his biggest hit, "My Prerogative," found some people still looking for their seats and others told to sit down by Aladdin ushers.

Brown quickly shed his coat to show he'd been pumping iron during his summer jail stint, but didn't have enough cell space to work on his cardiovascular system. He huffed, puffed and sweated, but stubbornly refused to give up the old stage-humping bit and just sing. ("I'm gonna ask my kids to close their eyes," he said for the benefit of the couple's two children watching from the wings.)

And then there was what George W. Bush might call "fuzzy math, fuzzy math!" Brown told the crowd he'd been sober for 274 days, even though he went to jail after testing positive for cocaine. And he said he hadn't performed in seven years, apparently forgetting the whole New Edition reunion tour debacle of 1997.

His 40-minute set (so much for the equal billing) was mostly a sad reminder of what promise the young star once had with optimistic pop hits as "Every Little Step." A retooled "Don't Be Cruel" showed an oldie can be updated, but if he wants to tour with his wife he's probably better off learning some Al Green covers.

There was certainly a lot of church in Houston's set. It was a night rooted in salvation, with the first words out of her mouth, "Remember when it all began ..."

That song, "Get It Back," was the first of three from Houston's neglected "My Love is Your Love" album. They reminded the crowd she can still function as a contemporary pop star if she can work through her tabloid troubles.

A torchy reworking of "Saving All My Love for You" let the singer run circles around the melody with a zeal to defy the skeptics. She sounded twice as good as her 1994 concert here.

But as the night wore on, the showboating became a crutch to replace real emotion. It's a combination of Houston's church-singing childhood and the overkill of her '80s-pop background. The vocal scaling worked fine for her extended gospel set in the middle of the show, but got in the way of tunes where the "he done me wrong" lyrics of "I Learned From the Best" could have resonated loudly enough on their own.

Her biggest hit, "I Will Always Love You," was more like a stunt singing than a song, with Houston taking time to wind up for the pitches. Sure it's a silly song, but it didn't get any better by stopping in the middle to introduce singer-TV star Brandy, or stopping again later on to wish her sister-in-law a happy birthday.

Brown emerged in a skirt and cowboy hat for an encore of "My Love is Your Love" and their duet, "Something in Common." With one of their daughters onstage as well, it was easy to pretend that this was indeed a storybook fantasy, and that the last year never happened. And by the time they waltzed off, arm in arm, they had us on their side -- hoping this is one melodrama the National Enquirer will lose in favor of an old-fashioned happy ending.



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