POP: Celine Dion; Earl's Court, Lonon

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The Independent Culture
When the official programmes stall doubles as a binocular sales point, you know you've come to see a megastar. The fact that Celine (like Madonna, like Mariah, she's now big enough to be referred to solely by her first name) can sell out two nights at Earl's Court at pounds 30 a ticket is an even more obvious status-indicator.

The French-Canadian rock balladeer released her first album when she was 12. By the time she was 18, she had recorded nine albums of Francophone- targeted material and amassed combined sales of several million. Representing Switzerland, she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1988 with "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi". Together with her husband and manager Rene Angelil, Celine soon realised that she'd have to sing in English to reach her true commercial potential. She enroled in a Berlitz course, and this proved to be one of the wisest ever cases of speculating to accumulate.

The stage is book-ended by two huge video screens, and as the shimmering, peach-coloured curtains go up, Celine is striking a pose at the top of a stairway. She delivers the schmaltzy narrative of "The Power of Love" note-perfectly, slowly descending the stairs in a figure-hugging gold catsuit of gossamer-like material. As the video screens give us our first close-up of our hostess, the crowd erupts in appreciation of this virtual- intimacy.

Celine is in the business of tugging heartstrings for big bucks, and there's obviously enough Mills and Boon-like sentimentality at the heart of our collective unconscious to make it worth her while. Tonight we get the Oscar and Grammy award-winning theme from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. "Because You Love Me" from the film Up Close and Personal (nice, lucrative side-line in movie soundtracks there, Celine) and the gloriously affected and overblown Jim Steinman composition It's All Coming Back to Me Now. Her 10-piece band's every semi-quaver is just so, and each song's composition is formulaic, almost to the point of self-pastiche. As my friend remarked, this is Saturday night TV writ large, but even if the stage-show, choreography and general modus operandi is redolent of Stars in their Eyes on a Spielbergian budget, one would have to concede that it's all great fun.

The audience dance, whoop and make merry with that complete lack of reserve unique to thirtysomethings and small children. At one point, Celine has us all doing a Mexican wave. To my knowledge, this has never happened at a Nick Cave gig. A courting couple in the row in front greets each mega-ballad with a renewed bout of snogging, their passion crescendos in step with the peaks and troughs of Celine's vocal gymnastics. Later in the set, when the London Gospel Community Choir come on stage to lend a hand on the new single "Call the Man" (the man in question, is, I think, Christ), the snoggers sense it's time to be a little more chaste.

If the pop artist's remit is primarily to entertain, one must give Celine credit where credit's due. Perhaps we weren't all smiling for the same reasons, but I'd wager very few of tonight's audience went home disappointed. James McNair