Live Review: Christina Aguilera at M&S Bank Arena
I’ll forever be bitter that I haven’t seen Lady Gagait is The Chromatica Ball in London, but I found comfort and consolation in being able to see another blonde diva in Liverpool a few days later: Christina Aguilera!
Xtina performed at M&S Bank Arena as part of their summer series. It was one of only three UK tour dates, along with London’s O2 Arena (still) and the Scarborough Open Air Theater (huh?) – although it also headlined Brighton Pride .
Xtina’s opening act was the recently reformed Syndicate Jwho, after competing on The X Factor (who would also be back), achieved four UK top 10 hits. Union J might not be the type of artist one would expect to open for Xtina, but it’s pretty ingenious of Live Nation to give the reformed band such glorious exposure, by supporting one of the biggest selling singers of all time on her UK tour.
Union J opened their set with ‘Tonight (We Live Forever)’ – their fourth single and third hit, following the flop of their previous single (“Loving You is Easy”). Their energy was abundant from the start and lasted the whole set. It was an electrifying performance, full of rock star energy and passion. It was clear the boys were thrilled to be back – doing what they love, together.
Their second song was their second single (and second consecutive top 10 hit), “Beautiful Life”. This was followed by a heartwarming reprise of Bonnie Raitt‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, which was an album track on their second album.
They then performed the aforementioned “Loving You is Easy” before a lively medley of covers, which included songs from two of Xtina’s former rivals, Britney Spears and Pink!
After that, they sang the heartbreaking “Skyscraper” – their cover of the Demi Lovato song, which was also a track from their second studio album. They reminded us that it was the winning song of the series of The X factor in which they participated, but they were eliminated just before the final.
Their penultimate song was “You Got It All”. The band only released seven singles; it was their fifth single and their fourth (and final) hit – albeit their biggest chart hit (#2).
They, of course, ended their set with their debut single and signature song, ‘Carry You’ – the moment I’ve been waiting for.
As is often the case with legendary artists, Xtina’s set began with a video montage, paying homage to her incredible career. I particularly liked the reference to ‘Dirrty’ (with red man) – with bold text indicating “ladies” and “gentlemen”.
Sure enough, the first song of the set was “Dirrty” – and it was one of the best concert openers I’ve ever seen. Complete with supporting dancers and vertically firing smoke machines, it was a riot of a performance. It heralded what was to come: loud voices, sneaky dancing, killer costumes, and awesome technology (smoke machines, pyrotechnics, laser beams, confetti, etc.).
Xtina donned a silver and metallic bodysuit, with long black sleeves and black leggings! Fresh off of his controversial LA Pride headliner, Xtina brought gayness to Liverpool (but sadly not the gleaming strap-on).
The guys stepped out ahead of the second song, “Bionic,” with Xtina now opting for sparkly thigh-high boots (equally gay).
“Bionic” is the title track (but not a single) from his 2010 studio album. His dancers waved green beams as laser lights shot into the audience (and more smoke was shot upwards).
She then sang another track from the album of Bionic: ‘Vanity.’ Her dancers wore circular mirrors for this sexy celebration of self-love. Although this performance was not as fierce as the first two, it was still extremely energetic. Xtina has shown no signs of slowing down so far.
I expected the next performance to be quieter, as I knew Xtina would sing “Genie in a Bottle”. However, the beautiful ballad has been remixed in reggaeton into a dazzling dance number. While some people would have preferred her to sing the original version of the song, this interpretation allowed us to appreciate her first hit without degrading the atmosphere. Rather, it felt like a celebration of the song that earned the singer her first hit (following her debut single, ‘Reflection’ from Mulanecritically acclaimed but without commercial success).
“What a Girl Wants” was decidedly tamer, with dazzling dancers overshadowed by the brilliant backing vocalists.
However, the dancers were able to shine again for the ensuing ‘Ya llegué’ dance interlude, before Xtina returned to the stage, in a sparkling red leotard and those same thigh-high boots, for ‘Santo’ (featuring Ozuna) and ‘Sueltame’ – two songs from his recently released Spanish language album.
This was followed by another dance interlude, this time to “Como Yo”. I was disappointed that she didn’t sing this song live, because it’s probably her favorite song, even if it’s just an album track. Worse – it reminded me of the fury of the fans who Not did not perform the fan-favorite single “To the Beat of My Heart” on their last tour. Thank you Xtina!
Xtina then returned to the stage in a long red leather coat for a superb performance of ‘Pa’ mis muchachas’ (her single with Becky G and Nicki Nicole with Nathy Peluso).
She ended that part of the set with ‘Feel This Moment’ (pit bull featuring Xtina), which really got the crowd moving – especially when we were showered with confetti (the first of many batches).
The Latin chapter ended with another dance interlude, this time for bad bunny‘s ‘Titi mMe Preguntó’ and Faroukkoit’s ‘Pepas’.
The next section was a throwback to Xtina’s classic English-language hits, starting with “Ain’t No Other Man” – complete with huge feathered red fans. The diva still wore the boots but now wore a black lingerie-like leotard.
While she hadn’t sung “Candyman” in some time, he made a comeback for the UK tour. The neon graphics in the background were striking, and the performance was as full-bodied and enticing as you’d expect.
Successes followed, with a performance of the last two thirds of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ (Brown 5 with Xtina). She also hadn’t sung that song recently, so it was wonderful to see it included.
She then showered in a black feathered coat for a moving rendition of “Say Something” (her duet with A big big world) – which she sang with a wonderful male backing vocalist.
She later retired the black feathered coat in favor of a black feathered fan (with a single red feather) for ‘Express’ – from the film Burlesquein which Xtina starred alongside dear (when I saw Cher, she sang ‘Welcome to Burlesque’).
The cabaret continued, with a solo cover of ‘Lady Marmalade’ (the The beautiful song with which Xtina covered Lil’ Kim, Myaand Pink For the movie Red Mill!). Xtina covered Mýa and Pink’s verses but did not attempt to rap Lil’ Kim’s verse. Xtina had sung the song with Mýa at LA Pride, and while I would have loved to see that, I saw Mýa sing a solo version of the song at Kisstory presents The Blast Off!
(I had seen the real red Mill in Paris a week and a day earlier, and I was invited to review Xtina two days later, while I was still in Paris – it was just meant to be, wasn’t it?)
Xtina then added a black cape to her hips for a cathartic rendition of her signature song, “Beautiful.” While she happily performed this song in its original ballad form – not the dance remix, “You Are What You Are (Beautiful)” – it wasn’t as raw as “Say Something”. It was a feel-good rendition of what can be quite a heavy (though still uplifting) song. She even brought a bit of sass, throwing a “yasss” at the audience during the second part of the first chorus.
The penultimate performance was “Fighter” – as feisty, feisty and fierce as you could hope for. Xtina demanded the attention and adoration of the audience – and we were thrilled to give it to her.
There was no recall. Instead, Xtina closed the concert with ‘Let There Be Love’ (an album track by Lotus). The song was a celebration of individuality – and, above all, of being queer, with a rainbow flag on the screen behind it and rainbow confetti (at least the third batch of the night ).
It was without a doubt one of the best concerts I have ever attended. Union J may not be my kind of music, but it was a great opening act. They set the scene and got us excited for Xtina’s electrifying showcase of her artistry and success. She fired banger after banger, each performance a work of art.
While hits that didn’t make the setlist didn’t go unnoticed – especially “Come on Over” (All I Want is You), although Union J ended their pop girl medley with a line from the song – the show was so dazzling and dramatic that it wasn’t until you finished and you had time to process it that you realized what she had neglected to sing.
However, when you’ve had as many hits as Xtina, you can’t sing them all (unless you do a Janet Jackson and make every song on the setlist a medley – or a Ashantithat is to say, sing small excerpts from some of your hits).
While Xtina doesn’t have the success she once did, this gig reminded us that she once had far more success than the vast majority of artists. She’s a diva, if there ever was one, and it’s deserved.