Live Review: Christina Aguilera at M&S Bank Arena
By Jay Darcy
I will be forever bitter that I did not see Lady Gaga‘s The Chromatica Ball in London, but I found solace and consolation in being able to see a fellow blonde diva in Liverpool just days later: Christina Aguilera!
Xtina played at M&S Bank Arena as part of her Summer Series. It was one of only three UK tour dates, along with the O2 Arena, London (always) and Scarborough Open Air Theatre (huh?) – though she also headlined Brighton Pride.
Xtina’s opening act was the recently reformed Union J, who, after competing on The X Factor (which is also reportedly returning), 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 offer the reformed group such glorious exposure, 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, after their previous single (‘Loving You is Easy’) flopped. Their energy was abundant right from the get-go, and it lasted the entire set. It was an electrifying performance, full of rockstar energy and passion. It was quite clear that the boys were thrilled to be back at it – 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 heart-warming cover of Bonnie Raitt‘s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, which was an album track on their sophomore album.
They then performed the aforementioned ‘Loving You is Easy’ ahead of a lively medley of covers, which including songs by two of Xtina’s former rivals, Britney Spears and Pink!
After this, they sang the heart-wrenching ‘Skyscraper’ – their cover of the Demi Lovato song, which was also a track on their second studio album. They reminded us that this was the winning song from the series of The X Factor that they competed in, but they were knocked out just before the final.
Their penultimate song was ‘You Got It All.’ The band only released seven singles; this was their fifth single and their fourth (and final) hit – albeit their biggest chart hit (no. 2).
They, of course, ended their set with their debut single and signature song, ‘Carry You’ – the moment I had been waiting for.
As is often the case for legendary artists, Xtina’s set began with a video montage, paying tribute to her incredible career. I particularly enjoyed the reference to ‘Dirrty’ (featuring Redman) – with bold text saying “ladies” and “gentlemen”.
Sure enough, the first song of the set was ‘Dirrty’ – and it was one of the best openings to a concert I’ve ever seen. Complete with backing dancers and smoke machines that fired vertically, it was a riot of a performance. It signalled what was to follow: vivacious vocals, devious dancing, killer costumes, and tremendous technology (smoke machines, pyrotechnics, laser beams, confetti, etc.).
Xtina donned a silver, metallic bodysuit, with long, black sleeves and black chaps! Fresh off of her controversial headlining set at LA Pride, Xtina brought the gayness to Liverpool (but sadly not the sparkling, strap-on dildo).
The chaps came off ahead of the second song, ‘Bionic’, with Xtina now opting for sparkly, thigh-high boots (just as gay).
‘Bionic’ is the title track (though not a single) from her 2010 studio album. Her dancers waved green beams whilst laser lights fired into the audience (and more smoke fired upwards).
She then sang another album track from Bionic: ‘Vanity.’ Her dancers carried circular mirrors for this sexy celebration of self-love. Whilst this performance was not quite as ferocious as the first two, it was still extremely energetic. Xtina showed no signs of slowing down just yet.
I expected the next performance to be calmer, for I knew that Xtina would be singing ‘Genie in a Bottle.’ However, the beautiful ballad was reggaeton-remixed into a dazzling dance number. Whilst some people might have preferred her to sing the original version of the song, this rendition allowed us to enjoy her first hit without bringing the mood down. Rather, it felt like a celebration of the song that brought the songstress her first success (following her debut single, ‘Reflection’ from Mulan, which was critically acclaimed but not commercially successful).
‘What a Girl Wants’ was significantly tamer, with with the dazzling dancers outshone by the brilliant backing vocalists.
However, the dancers got to shine again for the dance interlude to ‘Ya llegué’ that followed, 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 her recently-released Spanish-language album.
This was followed by another dance interlude, this time to ‘Como Yo.’ I was disappointed that she did not sing this song live, for it is probably my favourite song of hers, even though it’s just an album track. Worse – it made me remember the fan fury that Steps did not perform fan-favourite single ‘To the Beat of My Heart’ during their most recent tour. Thanks, Xtina!
Xtina then returned to the stage with a red, floor-length, leather coat for a stunning performance of ‘Pa’ mis muchachas’ (her single with Becky G and Nicki Nicole featuring Nathy Peluso).
She finished this section of the set with ‘Feel This Moment’ (Pitbull featuring Xtina), which really got the crowd going – especially when we were showered with confetti (the first of many batches).
The Latin chapter closed with another dance interlude, this time to Bad Bunny‘s ‘Titi mMe Preguntó’ and Farukko‘s ‘Pepas’.
The next section was a return to Xtina’s classic English-language hits, beginning with ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ – complete with huge, red, feathered fans. The diva still donned the boots but now wore a black, lingerie-like leotard.
Whilst she had not been singing ‘Candyman’ for awhile, it made a return for the UK tour. The neon graphics in the background were striking, and the performance was as bodacious and seductive as you’d expect.
The hits kept coming, with a performance of the last two thirds of ‘Moves Like Jagger’ (Maroon 5 featuring Xtina). She had not been singing this song recently either, so it was wonderful to see it included.
She then showered herself in a black feathered coat for an emotional rendition of ‘Say Something’ (her duet with A Great Big World) – which she sang with a marvellous male backing vocalist.
She then removed the black feathered coat in favour of a black feathered fan (complete with a single red feather) for ‘Express’ – from the film Burlesque, which Xtina starred in, alongside Cher (when I saw Cher, she sang ‘Welcome to Burlesque’).
The cabaret continued, with a solo cover of ‘Lady Marmalade’ (the Labelle song which Xtina covered with Lil’ Kim, Mýa, and Pink for the film Moulin Rouge!). Xtina covered Mýa and Pink’s verses but did not attempt to do Lil’ Kim’s rap verse. Xtina had sang the song with Mýa at LA Pride, and whilst I would have loved to have seen that, I did see Mýa sing a solo version of the song at Kisstory presents The Blast Off!
(I had seen the real Moulin Rouge in Paris a week and a day earlier, and I was invited to review Xtina just two days later, whilst 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.’ Whilst she thankfully performed this song in its original ballad form – and not the dance remix, ‘You Are What You Are (Beautiful)’ – it was not quite as raw as ‘Say Something.’ It was a feel-good rendition of what can be quite a heavy song (albeit always uplifting). She even brought a little sass, throwing a “yasss” at the audience during the second part of the first chorus.
The penultimate performance was ‘Fighter’ – as feisty, fiery, and ferocious as you could possibly hope for. Xtina demanded attention and adoration from the audience – and we were thrilled to give it.
There was no encore. Instead, Xtina closed the concert with ‘Let There Be Love’ (an album track from Lotus). The song was a celebration of individuality – and, especially, being queer, complete with a rainbow flag on the screen behind her and rainbow confetti (at least the third batch of the night).
This was, without a doubt, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. Union J might not make my kind of music, but they were a tremendous opening act. They set the scene and got us fired up for Xtina’s electrifying showcase of her artistry and success. She fired out banger after banger, every performance a work of art.
Whilst the hits that did not make it on to the setlist did not go unmissed – especially ‘Come on Over’ (All I Want is You), though Union J finished their pop girl medley with one line from the song – the show was so dazzling and dramatic that it was not until after it finished and you had time to process it that you realised what she had neglected to sing.
However, when you’ve had as many hits as Xtina, you cannot possibly sing them all (unless you do a Janet Jackson and make every song in the setlist a medley – or an Ashanti, i.e. sing little snippets of some of your hits).
Whilst Xtina does not have the chart success that she once had, this concert reminded us that she’s already had far more success than the vast majority of artists. She is a diva, if ever there was one – and it’s earned.