First Night: Whitney Houston, LG Arena, Birmingham

3.00

Tired and erratic but still giving it everything

The question of whether Whitney Houston would make this Birmingham show must have crossed the minds of most fans. With her first three UK shows postponed due to a respiratory infection, many wondered whether this signalled the toll taken on a star troubled by years of drug addiction and her tempestuous marriage to Bobby Brown. But when the soul pop diva appeared in a flamboyant white suit for her first show here in 11 years and started "For The Lovers", apprehension quickly evaporated.

Anyone who had read scathing reviews of Houston's post-rehab world tour's opening shows in Australia, watched the evidence on YouTube or caught sight of disappointed fans' reactions on news channels, might have regretted paying upwards of £75 a ticket to see her perform in the UK. In Brisbane, the 46 year-old star was booed for failing to reach the high notes which catapulted her to stardom. "Exhausted", "breathless" and "disoriented" were the damning verdicts of the critics and fans alike.

But five weeks have since passed, and during that time Houston has clearly learned to pace her set to her own advantage. Beginning with a handful of tracks from her new album, their register lower than her early hits, she eased herself towards the high notes later on. It was with the title track "I Look To You" that she won over the crowd, especially when she signed her autograph for a fan. "Thank you for your love, support and loyalty," she told a packed crowd. And as she seemed to implore her listeners with the lyrics "After all that we've been through. Who on earth can I turn to,", you could not help but admire a performer who, in the face of the negative press, stood up tonight to give her all. And Houston gave all she could.

If tonight was the first to attempt to recreate her early zest, she did not quite make it. But it's still an impressive voice – and you feel lucky to hear Houston live. After the first few numbers, without the backing band for support, her breathlessness could be heard, while later in the night she blamed her panting on the air conditioning.

If there were moments of tension, it was while the star was changing into a suitably dazzling slinky dress. After a song sung by her brother, Gary, "Queen of The Night" sung by three powerful-voiced backing singers, and a video montage to "One Moment in Time", fans began to cry "Where are you Whitney?" But it was the second half of her set for which she really saved the hits – and her voice.

Some pared-down early hits, including "Saving All My Love", performed seated, were tame versions of her former power. "All At Once" was one of her most controlled numbers, though it was when she abandoned the chair to sing "Step By Step", she regained the vigour of her former self. "Dance With Somebody" had the crowd dancing. By the time she reached "I Will Always Love You", her voice was tired, but she took relish in reaching the high note – even though she stopped mid-song and turned her back on the audience to compose herself.

Tonight was definitely a spectacle – and for the most part in a good way.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project