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  • 18 Apr 2010

    Not a million dollar bill but still a big denomination

    So after much advance controversy and volcanic ash dodging, the bould Whitney finally made it on to the O2 stage last night, and long before she emerged in a metallic high-waisted jacket that did nothing for her, the battle lines were drawn. On one side were the cynics, armed with their YouTube clips and tales of of a cracked-out diva trading on past glories, and on the other side, the mega-fans had circled their wagons in an aggressive defensive manoeuvre around their heroine, iPhones at the ready to launch Twitter flame attacks on anyone who dares to suggest she was anything less than “amazing”, “incredible” and “brilliant”. Which explains why I am writing this while wearing a suit I hastily fashioned from kitchen foil, oven gloves, and gaffer tape.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably lay my cards on the table first. I have never been a huge Whitney fan. Yes, she’s had some great pop songs along the way, and she was part of my gay growing up, so I’ve always had a soft spot for her, and I’ve lost my gay mind on dance floors to I Wanna Dance With Somebody on more than one occasion. I’ve drunkenly emoted my way through I Have Nothing, and spilt beer all down myself at the key change, and recently I’ve put my hands up while feeling like a Million Dollar Bill, Oh oh Oh oh oh! But when she was at the height of her powers, what stopped me falling in love with her, was that she was too perfect. I want my power-house diva voices to have real emotion, and Whitney’s vocals were always so perfect that they struck me as a bit cold. It’s through the cracks that the emotion escapes and Whitney never had any cracks. Like her image, her vocals were polished and varnished to a squeaky-clean, impenetrable high sheen. Self-cleaning glass that repelled anything as dirty as emotion. Her recording of I Will Always Love You is the perfect case in point. It’s a flawless vocal, but so flawless it feels fake, non-human. You feel like the whole performance could be recreated with samples and a Casio keyboard.

    So when the HMS Whitney hit choppy drug-infested waters, she actually became more interesting to me. Maybe the stormy weather would take some of the shine off her and, and a slightly weather-beaten Whitney would reveal the kind of emotion I want in my divas. Maybe now when she sings I Have Nothing I could really believe her. And of course, everyone loves a good come-back story, so I was going with a lot of love for Whitney. Come on Girl! 

    So I wasn’t expecting, or wanting, Whitney circa 1992. And of course she’s not 29 anymore – she’s 47 – and as someone who regularly goes to concerts that are mostly attended by gays and women of a certain age, I’m well used to making small allowances and trading in a little nostalgia. These kind of gigs are often as much about the shared experience as they are about the music, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Give me a pint in a plastic cup, a diva in a good frock telling us she loves us, and bunch of women in feather boas having a girls night out and I can get on board. All together now: “And I-iiiiiiiiiii-eeee-iiiiiiii-eeee-iiiiiii, will always love youOuuuuUUUU!”

    So how was it? It was a mixed bag. (That sound you can hear is the sound of mega-fans turning their Twitter guns on me. Shields up!)


    Lets get The Voice out of the way first before we get to the good stuff (the outfits, the rambling, the make-up breaks…). The voice is shot. Totally shot, and only the most rabid fan (or reviewer who was drunk or in the pocket of the promoter – ahem! The Guardian and others) who refuses to accept the evidence of their own ears could possibly say differently. When she’s not having to force it, the voice is recognisably Whitney’s and there are moments when you can hear the voice that made her famous, but the upper register is completely gone, and more devastatingly, so is the lung power, so even when she manages to hit the bigger notes she can’t hold them, and they quickly hit the floor, or simply crack and disappear altogether. Even in the middle and lower register she’s breathless and sometimes raspy, though vocally she pulls it off best in the numbers that don’t require her lost big range, like in My Love Is Your Love. It’s actually a little sad at times - you feel for her because she ain’t deaf, she can hear it too – but she is a fantastic one-woman anti-drugs campaign. A serious drug problem does serious damage and the evidence is right there in front of you.

    But fair play to our Whit: she does very little miming – a little bit in the opening section, most obviously in the second number – but for the most part she’s giving us her warts and all live performance. Though for much of the hits, she lets the crowd do the singing – and they are only too happy to – filling in the Whitney gaps. Though at one point, as she starts in to I Will Always Love You and as the crowd picks it up and runs with it she pulls them back, adding “Not that I don’t appreciate the assistance” to much laughter as we all assume (rightly or wrongly) that it’s a reference to the much discussed YouTube clips. Indeed she does seem to be aware of the controversy surrounding her earlier gigs, because at another point she asks the people filming with phones and cameras if they watch them over again at home and then “Tweeter” them. (I have a clip of that which I’ll post when it’s finished uploading).

    The energy high-point of the show comes when she does I Wanna Dance With Somebody/How Will I Know which has the crowd leaping to their feet and even Whitney nearly gets her boogie on. There is a lot of love in the room for Whitney, and at those moments all is forgiven. Everyone is here for a good time, Whitney wants us to have a good time, and God damn it, we’re going to have a good time!

    I definitely wasn’t bored. There’s lots to enjoy, even if not necessarily always for the right reasons. I always want my performers to talk, to know there really there in the room with you, and with Whitney, there’s no doubting she’s really there, in body if not always in mind. She loves to ramble on, often quite nuttily, and I always enjoy that. We got a rambling five-minute treatise on Michael Jackson, a bit about the volcanic ash and the ferry trip to Dublin, plenty of diva-ish name dropping (“a young man called Akon”….  “You know him as R Kelly, but I call him Robert”), lots of reminders about how much she loves us, and indeed Jesus, and a whole five minute one-way conversation with a shy young girl in the front row. Whitney got the wrong end of the stick and thought the girl had been abandoned by her mother (the mother was twenty yards away) and was full of addled concern for her, and when the mother appeared she called her out on her parenting! “She doesn’t ever have to be left alone again” she admonished, before calling on her assistant to go and get “two tour books, some T-shirts, one of those charm bracelets… Get everything!” and when she reappeared ten minutes later after changing into a sequinned gown, she walked out singing and carrying two white plastic bags of merchandise for the girl, looking like she’d just been out to Centra. Her disjointed ramblings were entertaining for the most part, but whether the result of medication or booze or just the permanently addled mind of the recovered addict, was impossible to know for sure.

    I know you gays want to know how she looked, and she looked good for a regular 47 year old - but of course she’s not a regular 47 year old. She’s Whitney Houston, the great beauty, and it’s impossible not to compare her to the Whitney of our memories. Her face is a little puffy, but most notable is her oddly swollen, pregnant-looking belly. She thin as a rake, and spends the middle section of the show poured into a figure hugging sequined number which accentuates her own middle section. The dress is crying out for a corset, but I guess a corset is out of the question when you’re doing your best to belt out the hits. She has three outfits. She starts in an uncomfortable looking jacket and pants that are not her friend, disappears for a long ten minutes while her older brother sings an unremarkable number (though he has a good voice) to a totally disinterested crowd and then the backing singers belt out Queen Of The Night to a video montage before she finally reappears in the sequinned number. The encore is Million Dollar Bill and is when she looks best, and most comfortable, dressed down in jeans and a leather jacket. However she wants to look her best for us, and so on a number of occasions she entertainingly and diva-ishly turns her back to us and picks up a hand mirror and compact and dramatically powders her visage. Not that she’s working up a sweat from dancing because Whitney doesn’t dance. She is not a graceful mover – in fact she kind of clomps around the stage looking like she’d much rather be in her PJ’s and slippers while a quartet of hot boys do all the dancing for her – and that’s fine. They’re fine!

    And Whitney? Well, she’s not fine. But she’s there, and she’s giving it her all, and we were on her side.

    All together now! “Yeahhhh I wanna dance with somebody! I wanna feel the HEAT with somebody!”

    UPDATE: Here's my clip of I Will Always Love You, and her "tweeter" comment etc. Apologies for the poor video quality - I stupidly forgot my camera so it's shot with my phone - but the sound is OK so you can make up your own mind.  


    people | performance | music


    • Posted By lisamareedom 25 Apr 2010 19:53

      @john: that is hilarious! And you know what else was wonderful? At the SLJ ball and the US embassy gig she turned up in a HUGE furcoat, swished past the photographers and then once inside; - removed it to reveal the kind of leisure suit you would find at Pennys.


    • Posted By sarah 18 Apr 2010 23:23

      @P'Lo: This is my opinion and you don't have to agree with me. I respect and admire her more. I've seen enough clips of her on youtube and on this site to see tht she is clearly in the moment and not half asleep- again my opinion- don't want to debate you.

    • Posted By David Minogue 18 Apr 2010 23:17

      Hi Panti, our review is completely accurate, i think you really expressed how the crowd supported her and that support was really tested! yes it was tragic but during it and afterwards i thought 'dear god almighty' but on reflection anyone who had seen her on x factor and still bought tickets knew exactly what to expect, , did u notice how much the backing singers sounded like her, i think the little girl reminded her of her daughter Bobbi when she was the same age, i thought she was going to adopt her at the end of the show, love your concert reviews, david

    • Posted By P'Lo 18 Apr 2010 23:12

      @Sarah - it's all well and good congratulating her for getting up in the morning - but at E120 a ticket, you'd expect a wee bit more than a half asleep singer who clearly isn't well enough to be touring. And it's patronising to say, isn't she great for getting through it - there's a team of people making millions of euros out of the people in the audience egging her on to be good, and EVERYONE there last night wanted her to be good and not just present.

    • Posted By sarah 18 Apr 2010 22:56

      I have to say that i'm not much of a Whitney fan, (i'm 34yrs old) I have a few of her cds and I did get the last one. However,watching the media savage her this week urged me to come online and do some searches. I listened to several of the clips of her from Nottingham and other places and I was surprised because quite frankly I expected her to sound like shit and she didn't . Not the same but not horrible. After reading your review, my respect, admiration went up miles for her because I've been through ups and downs in my life and lord knows if I had to have people nipping on me and watching as I struggled, not sure if I would have made it. Kudos for her for getting up everyday, showing up at her concerts and giving it her all. I listened to the IWALY clip above and quite frankly, it wasn't bad, it was better than Birminham . I have to respect her hustle, warts and all and for NOT LIPPING which I abhor.

    • Posted By John 18 Apr 2010 19:46

      @lisamareedom Eh, Dionne Warwick was arrested for marijuana possession a couple of years back. And she was a big smoker, which took away a lot of her voice. She's sounds better than Whitney, though. @panti I don't think you can win with Whitney hardcore fans. I thought you review was very balanced and the warmth was clear. Sad to say, I think the hardcore fans' attitude is probably the same as the people around Whitney "Everything's fine. FINE, I tell you", which doesn't do her any favours, really.

    • Posted By lisamareedom 18 Apr 2010 19:29

      I was lucky enough to catch a very intimate concert with Whitney's Auntie Dionne (when Sam Jackson hosted our ball) and boy - that lady can sit on a kitchen stool in a leisure suit and hold us all in the palm of her hand when she TALKS let alone sings. I think not popping much more than a cough lozenge in 80 odd years (??!!) is the difference. It's a pity that her niece didn't manage to put down the crack pipe soon enough to be just husky enough to be interesting. Maybe she needs to change her set? Tone down the size of the The-ater that she is performing in and let her audience in to her life a bit. (ps- Panti - you need to get on our list girl. What you doing drinking pints out of a plastic cup? I get into the blue room!)


    • Posted By Panti 18 Apr 2010 18:55

      @ Patrick... I think you're being highly sensitive. I enjoyed the gig and the review very clearly says that. In fact, I think any reasonable reading of my review would say that it's very warm about her. It's also honest about the short-comings, and when you pay a not insubstantial sum for a ticket, that too is totally reasonable. And you can't possibly infer from my review that I was taking any 'glee' in her faults (apart from the rambling that I love). Indeed I said that it was a little sad - the very opposite of taking pleasure from it.

    • Posted By P'Lo 18 Apr 2010 18:55

      @Patrick - "Not a million dollar bill, but still a big denomination" seems pretty complimentary to me. If you're sick of people being snarky and "dehumanising" other people then maybe you should have a pop at Whitney's management and family who have clearly told her se's good to go on tour when actually she's not. Far from it. Last night was tragic/sad/funny/entertaining, but it was far from brilliant - and certainly not fine.

    • Posted By Patrick 18 Apr 2010 18:27

      Yes, I read it twice and if you thought it was fine that didn't come across in your review. It just seemed snarky and mean. I'm sort of over it and really disappointed in the human race at times that they seem to take glee in dehumanizing someone. I went and for the hour and a half she was on stage I enjoyed myself so I 'm good.

    • Posted By Panti 18 Apr 2010 18:17

      @ Patrick. Did you really read it? I thought she did fine too. But fine isn't brilliant. It's fine.

    • Posted By patrick 18 Apr 2010 18:04

      Wow, i don't kow what to think of this review- seems a bit meanspirited. I was there and thought that she did fine.

    • Posted By brenjamin 18 Apr 2010 17:34

      lol - comment of the year!

    • Posted By vinny 18 Apr 2010 17:30

      at last, a balanced review!

    • Posted By myeyesmyeyes 18 Apr 2010 17:25

      Your website hurts my eyes.

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