The show started promisingly. Whitney looked amazing in a slinky gold dress and launched straight into two of my favourite songs from her latest album – “For The Lovers” and “Nothin’ But Love”. Her voice was shaky but nowhere near as bad as the reviews would have you believe. It was great to see her looking so radiant and I was happy to see her (clumsily) perform some choreography. Someone needs to sign her up to the Kylie school of hand-dancing! There was a palpable sense of relief from fans when she finally made her way though “I Look To You” after a dodgy start and things genuinely looked up when she performed a brilliant reggae tinged version of “My Love Is Your Love” (one of my all time favourite songs) and endearingly hummed a few lines from “Like I Never Left”. Introducing her daughter to the crowd was a nice touch and I loved her diva tantrum before “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”. The sound apparently wasn’t up to scratch and she had three false starts before belting out the song in rather fabulous style. A spot on rendition of “If I Told You That” closed the first act, which more than exceeded my expectations.
Unfortunately, the Whitney express was destined for a head on collision. The intermission was her first big mistake. It was great to hear her brother sing and I loved her band’s version of “Queen Of The Night” but the “One Moment In Time” video montage was a potent reminder of the sad decline in Whitney’s voice. She didn’t help her cause by returning to the stage wearing a transparent black top and what at first glance looked like a fluffy car seat cover. Her hair was also sweat soaked and limp, making the entire ensemble less than flattering. The acoustic section that followed was very hit and miss. “Saving All My Love For You” was rough but poignant, while “The Greatest Love Of All” was heartbreakingly bad. Whitney redeemed herself somewhat with a respectable take on “All At Once” before really coming through on “I Learned From The Best”, which was probably her best vocal performance of the night.
More enjoyable still was her increasingly erratic behaviour – she inexplicably stopped singing in the middle of songs, congratulated a lesbian couple holding a 25 Year anniversary banner on being “friends” as long as she has been making music, turned her back on the audience to speak to the band for extended periods, said that she was pleased to see so many people “as old as her mother” in the crowd and talked about missing Michael Jackson before ranting about fans talking to her while she’s trying to eat. It was a complete car crash but I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Less fun was her extended sermon about Jesus and her woefully inept rendition of “I Love The Lord”. It was around this time that people started to walk out but it was their loss because (the remainder of) the crowd was completely swept up in the warm nostalgia of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “How Will I Know”. Her voice was pretty croaky by then but Whitney’s energy and obvious delight in getting her fans on their feet was compensation her vocal problems. I was genuinely worried when she launched into “I Will Always Love You” but it turned out to be surprisingly competent - if you overlook the two minutes of silence mid-song when she strolled to the back of the stage to grab a drink. Whitney’s upper and lower register are intact, it’s just everything else she has a problem with. I loved hearing her belt out her biggest hit and was moved when she hit the big note at the end. She probably should have left things there but she returned for a fun but sloppy version of “Million Dollar Bill”, followed by “I’m Every Woman”. That is until she turned around and left the stage halfway through the song without saying a word, leaving her band and dancers red faced. It was a fittingly twisted end to an emotional rollercoaster that I’d happily take again. Whitney is a lot of things. Boring isn’t one of them.