Whitney Houston, LG Arena, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

The question of whether Whitney Houston would make this show must have crossed the minds of most fans. With her first three UK shows postponed, due to a respiratory infection, many wondered if this signalled the toll taken on a star troubled by drug addiction and a 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 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. In Brisbane, the 46-year-old was booed for failing to reach the high notes which catapulted her to stardom.

But several weeks have passed and Houston has learned to pace her set. Beginning with a handful of tracks from her new album, she eased herself towards the high notes. With the title track, "I Look To You", she won over the crowd, especially when she signed an autograph. "Thank you for your love, support and loyalty," she said. As she sang "After all that we've been through/Who on earth can I turn to", you could not help but admire a performer who stood up to give her all.

Houston still has an impressive voice, but after the first few numbers her breathlessness could be heard. Later she blamed her panting on the air conditioning.

If there was tension, it came while the star was changing into a dazzling dress. After a song sung by her brother, Gary; "Queen of The Night" sung by three 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 her voice.

Some early hits, including "Saving All My Love", were tame. It was when she sang "Step By Step" that Houston regained her vigour. "Dance With Somebody" had the crowd dancing. For "I Will Always Love You", Houston's voice was tired, but she relished the high note – even though she stopped mid-song and turned her back to compose herself.

The show was definitely a spectacle – for the most part in a good way.

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