Entertainment Music

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Whitney: was hers the saddest show ever seen in Dublin?

John Meagher

Music Critic

There was a time when Whitney Houston was queen of all she surveyed. Her voice was a thing of wonder -- an instrument every bit as special as those of her heroines, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Diana Ross. And the world loved her for it. In the early 1990s she was the biggest-selling female act on the planet.

I was 17 and in the thrall of REM and Nirvana when her gazillion-selling soundtrack to The Bodyguard came out in 1992. The songs were played so ubiquitously by the radio stations that I failed to see at the time what a remarkable singer she was. That appreciation would come later.

So when the opportunity to see her in concert finally came up, I jumped at the chance. Sure, Whitney had been beset with a myriad of personal problems away from the music business, but this was a diva who could perform on the night, right?

Sadly, it didn't turn out that way. Saturday, April 17, 2010 will live in my memory for all the wrong reasons. Rather than turn in a performance befitting her talents, Whitney Houston delivered a concert at Dublin's O2 so wretched that seasoned reviewers were left scrambling for the words to describe what they had witnessed.

As soon as she launched into her opening song, a newbie called 'For the Lovers', it was apparent that her once formidable voice was shot. Her backing singers gamely tried to paper over the cracks, but the stunt was fooling no one. They had come to hear Whitney Houston sing, not a bunch of unknown session vocalists.

Yet that song was a model of efficiency compared to 'Nothing but Love'. Even her more ardent fans were looking on through laced fingers as she and a roadie wrestled ungainfully in an attempt to remove her portable microphone. I'll never forget the look of horror on the faces of her band as they tried to keep the show on the road while Whitney turned her back on the crowd and made a none-too-subtle show of re-applying her make-up.

The concert was only about 20 minutes old and yet droves of people could be seen making their way to the bar. It was heartbreaking to witness.

And yet it was to get a whole lot worse. The costume change is a now well-worn routine employed by everyone from Madonna to Beyoncé. But they don't take 15 minutes to put on a new outfit -- the amount of time Houston was off stage as she changed from a silver-and-white trouser-suit into a sparkly black dress.

Ironically, it was during one of her many disappearing acts that her hitherto listless band finally managed to extricate themselves from first-gear and raise the heartbeat with a blistering take on 'Queen of the Night'.

But there was a good chance that several hundred people missed this high point because they had beat a hasty retreat to the bars during the previous song -- the one where Whitney's brother Gary stepped out of the shadows, but proved to be no more able than the sort of performer one sees in the early stages of The X Factor.

Regrettably, proceedings weren't much better when Houston was on stage because of her propensity to spend an inordinate amount of time mouthing platitudes at the crowd. Did Dublin ever feel more loved? Whitney must have told us 100 times how much she adored the city and its people but her words seemed hollow.

Then, just as you thought it couldn't get worse, she fixated on a young child in the front row, chatting to her as if she were the only person in the room. The girl is likely to cherish the exchange for the rest of her life, but the muddied conversation could hardly have been more wearying for the crowd.

There were slivers of the super-talented young Whitney but they came so infrequently that it hardly mattered. Instead, the concert-goer who had shelled out up to €106.25 for the sold-out show was left with the memory of botched attempts to wring some gold-dust from 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody' and 'How Will I Know?'

In hindsight, Whitney Houston simply should not have gone on tour. Who knows which of the many demons that plagued the second half of her life were troubling her at that period? Life on the road is notoriously tough for performers who fall on hard times. There's no doubt that tour must have taken its toll.

And it begs another question. Might Whitney still be alive today had she then sought the treatment she so badly needed?

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