Christina Aguilera has always been known as the tiny girl with the big voice. She's been hearing that all her life. In a way her voice has been what has set her apart from her peers, yet at the same time it's also been a point of criticism for people who claim she over sings. When compared to her arch rival Britney Spears, many people often say Christina has the voice while Britney has the stage presence. However, after Friday night's sold out concert at Madison Square Garden, it's clear to anyone with five senses that comparison is null and void.
Spears' stage presence relies on her elaborate sets, costumes, crisp dance numbers — glitz and glamor. Though Christina's show uses all those same elements as well, Aguilera's stage presence is wrapped up in something she has all on her own: sheer diva. When the lights dropped, those opening notes played, and Christina appeared on the stage in a tight white suit with a pulled down hat and wailed that signature "Heeeeey!", the crowd went berserk. She threw a white scarf off her shoulder and left no doubt about it — she is the diva ethereal.
From her nostalgic yet hip rendition of "Back in the Day," which pays tribute to soul legends like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Lady Day, to the dripping wet with attitude "Slow Down Baby," to the sultry and soulful ballad "Understand," Christina pulls out show stoppers right and left — showing opening act Danity Kane the real meaning of the word. Based on their performances Friday night, they clearly have not yet looked it up in the dictionary.
Whipping out those trademark chaps, she titillated us with the sexy and funky Still "Dirrty" and took us to church on "Makes Me Wanna Pray." Decked out in a sparkly ruby red number drenched in sequins, she sparked a fire in the crowd with a hit from her second album "Stripped" and when she sang a snippet from the female empowerment anthem "Can't Hold Us Down" — which honestly, judging from the crowd reaction she should have sang full out.
Aguilera took us to the circus in the later part of the show, full with her dancers walking on stilts, tossing around fire, and swinging from trapeze. She even pulled a male volunteer from the audience (though judging from the look on his face through the entire thing, it looked pretty involuntary to me) to punish during the raunchy burlesque number "Nasty Naughty Boy." As racy as it was, full with phallic symbols, sexual innuendos, and whips, nothing could've shocked the many elderly people I saw at the venue like the three and half minutes of masturbatory goodness that was "I Got Trouble."
While she and her dancers readied the next number backstage, a video played of her spreading her legs, writhing around on a bed, and touching herself provocatively — something that seemed to make even her younger fans somewhat uncomfortable if they could figure out what was going on. But what must you expect when coming to a Christina Aguilera concert? You want nice? Go to Las Vegas and see Celine Dion belt out "My Heart Will Go On." When you shell out $100 to see the love child of Mariah Carey and Madonna, you're in for something naughty.
Quite possibly one of the gayest displays I've ever seen on stage was her performance of the Moulin Rouge-inspired "Lady Marmalade" — which at this point, the other three girls on the track should not even bother attempting it ever again — the song belongs to Aguilera. There were transvestites, there were feather boas and gloves, there was make-up, it was a gay old time. And in true Aguilera fashion, she sang the hell out of it.
Emerging from below the stage atop a carousel-esque horse and latched onto the pole, she did an electrifying version of her hit "Dirrty" which defined her entire Stripped era. Surprisingly, she managed to perform the song without making me want to grab her and start running some bath water. "Candyman," her current single and another of the audience favorites, got everyone up on their feet singing and dancing along, while her and her dancers sported sailor outfits moving to the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" inspired tune. When she hit the high note after the bridge the screams from the crowd were so loud I couldn't even hear the note anymore.
As in your face as the entire concert is, there are a few tender moments for those whose ears feel abused and battered. There's an emotional rendition of "Oh Mother," a song she wrote in dedication to her mother for rescuing her and her sister from domestic abuse, and the epic ballad "Hurt," a rarity in today's music scene but she pulls it off with finesse. One of the biggest highlights of the show was when she walked out onto the bare stage with a shirt and loosened tie and sang her signature hit "Beautiful." The crowd sang along as they waved their cell phones in the air, and it is one of the few times during the concert that Aguilera stops, breathes, and gets a chance to interact and connect with the audience a bit.
You can tell Aguilera fans love their self-empowerment songs — because as with "Can't Hold Us Down," and "Beautiful," her rabble-rousing performance of "Fighter" had entire arena in a craze. Even the 60-something year old woman in front of me who came with her husband was punching her fist into the air and screaming the lyrics at the top of her lungs as her glasses shook with each punch.
There were a few low points however, in an otherwise great concert. She revisited a few of her old hits from her debut album, "What A Girl Wants" and "Come On Over Baby," and I'm sorry to say — butchered them both. I understand the desire to do a new spin on the songs — especially when your current album is retro-inspired, but both songs were barely even recognizable. The only reason I could even figure out what she was singing was because I recognized the lyrics. It was really bad. So bad in fact — I'd encourage her to cut both of them from her set list immediately — or at least just sing them the way they are on the record.
A lot of credit needs to be given to Christina's dancers, who, though all sexy, look unconventional. Christina seems to have taken a cue from Madonna in picking dancers who stick out from the pack. Each and every one of them came out on the stage for every number and killed it. "Slow Down Baby" in particular is one where Christina is singing with just three male dancers with no set behind them, and just their energy and skill alone sells the performance.
The opening acts were Danity Kane and the Pussycat Dolls, one disappointed and the other left me pleasantly surprised. Diddy's MTV made girl-group pretty much made a mess of all of their songs except their one hit, "Showstopper." They weren't dancing together, the songs didn't transition well, the costumes were a mess, if they weren't good singers their set would've been a high school musical. The Pussycat Dolls were much better. Their dancing was on point, they had way more energy, their outfits were hot and sexy, and though most of the group members could've just phoned in their vocals, lead singer Nicole Sherzinger had pipes stronger than all five Danity Kane girls put together.
But none of them were a match for the mighty Aguilera, whose powerhouse vocals brought down the house, built it up, and brought it back down again.
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