Whitney Houston, LG Arena, Birmingham

Back in the spotlight, but this one-time superstar dishes up a horror show

The damaged diva's opening words are prophetic. "To all the haters in the place," she sings, in the opening number of her first night in the UK, "I ain't singing for you ..." Thus begins a show that, within hours, will become a national scandal.

In truth, she doesn't sing those words, she mouths them. As she totters back and forth, a radio mic headset slung around her face, her mastery of the melody is suspiciously precise. A touch of Auto-Tune is going on, at the very least. Then the radio mic is removed by a roadie who hands her a glittery hand-held replacement, which she promptly flings at arm's length in a dramatic gesture ... and the vocals keep coming regardless.

Whitney Houston had an eventful Noughties. It began with lifelong friend Burt Bacharach having to fire her from the 2000 Oscars show after erratic behaviour in rehearsals, which may or may not have been connected to the drug use to which she would later confess, and for which she was in and out of rehab. After the end of her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown in 2006, she found herself in such financial difficulties that she was ordered by a court to auction many of her possessions including, humiliatingly, items of underwear. In 2009, making a comeback on The X Factor, her malfunctioning bra strap only seemed indicative of wider problems still unsolved.

The Australian leg of the Nothing But Love tour spawned headlines, with angry fans demanding refunds after a performance in Brisbane. On arriving in France, Houston was taken to hospital with an "upper respiratory infection" which forced her to postpone shows in Paris, Manchester and Glasgow. Now the comeback machine grinds on.

So here she is, telling us "I'm feeling pretty good myself, thank you for asking", and repeating variations on the phrase "I love you too", suffixed with a spot of barbed emotional blackmail: "Thank you for your loyalty..." That loyalty is stretched to the limit.

Her voice, seemingly about an octave deeper than the Whitney who sang the hits, is ragged and raw, and she asks for the air conditioning to be turned off, singing an impromptu ad-lib (rhyming "sick" with "quick") about how she's just got over a cold. Between songs, wheezing and panting and occasionally breaking into a scary Wicked Witch of the West cackle, she plays for time, breaking off to sign autographs. Suddenly, telling us she's going to get changed, she introduces her brother, the unshaven but besuited Gary, who croons her early ballad "For the Love of You" no more than adequately. The band strike up "Queen of the Night", the rock'n'soul single from The Bodyguard, but still Whitney is nowhere to be seen, her backing singers doing all the work. This is followed by a CD recording of "One Moment in Time", accompanied by a montage of classic WH moments.

After 15 minutes, there's still no sign of Whitney. How long does it take to change into a spangly black evening dress? By now, there's booing and calls of "Where are you?", until she finally appears, acknowledging, "I heard you got mad, I heard you were a little pissed off." No kidding, Whitters. After a point, whether or not you're a fan of Houston pales against the wider issue of value for money.

Personally, the prospect of a whole Houston concert is a bit like eating an entire box of Terry's All Gold, and the detrimental effect she's had on pop is incalculable, if inadvertent (the idea, propagated by all from Beyoncé and Xtina to Leona and Alexandra, that ululation and melisma is the proper way to sing). We do get one moment of brilliance. "It's Not Right But It's OK", with Rodney Jerkins' extraordinary glockenspiel arrangement, is almost unruinable. The rest of the set is not. "Saving All My Love For You", Whitney's once-beautiful debut single, is tossed away as part of a stool-perched medley, and turned into an all-but-unrecognisable display of vocal gymnastics. Heckles of "Sing the song properly!" meet petulant refusal: "It's my show, I'll sing it the way I wanna sing it..."

Houston lurches awkwardly from one horror to the next. The Bible-bashing gospel screamer "I Love the Lord" is greeted by stony faces from secular Brits. Her attempt at the Eighties disco smash, "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", is on only vague terms with the actual melody, and "How Will I Know" is little better. This after she's had the nerve to tell us: "If you're gonna sing along, be in the right key. I've seen X Factor."

During "My Love", presumably to reflect such lyrics as "If we wake up to World War Three", we're shown images of carnage from Afghanistan and Iraq, and abject survivors of Hurricane Katrina. At one point, we see the word "HELP!" painted in big white letters on a wall. I couldn't have put it better.

The concert climaxes, inevitably, with "I Will Always Love You". Houston's mirror-shattering version always lacked the humility and poignancy of Dolly Parton singing it to Burt Reynolds in that little Texan whorehouse, but tonight she murders it. The gap before the big note – you know the one – is milked for minutes, and when she finally steps forward to belt it out, she misses by half a mile.

She'll return for an encore "Million Dollar Bill" and "I'm Every Woman", but by then most people are already streaming down the aisles, wondering why they paid between £55 and £108 for their tickets.

It's a show which, if not quite the human car crash that's been reported elsewhere, should never have happened. Cold or no cold, Whitney is clearly unready for all this, and the promoters – Marshall Arts by arrangement with WME2 – must take a long look at themselves.

It's not right, and it's certainly not OK.

Next Week:

Simon pops in the earplugs to brave Lou Reed's infamous Metal Machine Music live

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam