Okay, those of you who just don’t give a damn about my concert reviews can rest easy: this is the last one I’ll do for at least… a week. No shows between now and April 10th, when Zombi and Trans Am hit the Black Cat; in this concert-filled year, that seems like an abnormally long drought for me.
Last night was the big show: maybe the biggest show I’ve ever seen or ever will see. Yes, it was Christina Aguilera at the Verizon Center, with openers Danity Kane (who were terrible) and The Pussycat Dolls (who were worse than terrible). This was only the second stadium concert I’ve ever been to, actually, and the first is hardly worth counting — I saw Phish when I was fifteen or sixteen years old (and amusingly enough, I remember writing a long rant on my then-website about the show, complaining that Phish couldn’t hold a candle to King Crimson as rock improvisers). I went with my housemate, an indie-rock fan with a soft spot for good pop music, and as we approached the venue we were overwhelmed by the amount of makeup slathered over the faces of folks heading into the stadium. I half-expected to see some ironic hipsters in the crowd, but nope, the vast majority was what you’d expect: girls between the ages of, I don’t know, 8-18 or so. Some with parents and some with boyfriends.
My friend and I intentionally missed most of Danity Kane (hearing their album of really atrociously bad pop music makes me appreciate good pop music that much more), and settled into our “cheap” (don’t ask) seats just as they were starting their last song. It was forgettable, of course. Next up was The Pussycat Dolls, a six-piece girl-band taking their roots from a Vegas burlesque show, if I’ve got my facts straight. This was a bit of a weird experience: the stage show made its Vegas roots pretty clear, as the girls were hardly wearing anything and the dancing was, uh, provocative. I would NOT have been comfortable taking my 10-year-old daughter to this performance. Man, I’m getting old. Anyway, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I think The Pussycat Dolls‘ sole studio album, PCD, is actually pretty entertaining (especially the Timbaland-produced songs). This did not translate at all live: their live musical performance was awful and surprisingly, given their roots, so was their choreography and dancing.
Once the main act started, though, it was clear there was a whole different level of production value and talent at hand. Aguilera has a pretty astounding voice, and her over-the-top vocals were complemented by a seriously over-the-top stage show. I mean, there were three outfit changes in the first three songs alone (this puts Within Temptation to shame). The jazzy big band backing her was probably 15 members strong. The songs from the second disc of Back to Basics were accompanied by the most gimmickry — a decadent circus-themed extravaganza featuring guys on stilts, acrobatic stunts, a carousel horse, and more. All this flash made up a little for the fact that the songs off of that disc are terrible: generic backing music with embarrassingly juvenile lyrics.
Her other songs, though, came off pretty well, although she does have a penchant for over-singing. And, refreshingly enough, there was one huge surprise: halfway through the set, the dancers stepped aside and the big band melted into the shadows, leaving just Aguilera and a pianist on stage. Aguilera proceeded to spend what was probably a good two minutes introducing “Oh Mother,” talking about how domestic violence affected her life, and then went into a pretty emotional rendition of the song — backed by a seriously intense video on the enormous screen behind her of a man yelling at his wife, the wife crying, the man shoving and hitting her. It was actually a little over the line, I thought, but simply awesome that this kind of slow, devastating statement song was in the middle of her set. Aguilera may have been in full entertainer mode throughout, but this song was a memorable exception, when music, lyrics and message took the front seat and spectacle was nowhere to be found.
Overall, this show was something that was definitely worth seeing once, if only for the ridiculous, gaudy spectacle of it all, “Oh Mother” excepted. It was really fascinating to see major-label corporate music in all its “glory” — I’ll always be much more comfortable in a dingy rock club or a tiny jazz club, but seeing what the majority of the country thinks of when they think of “live music” was quite the eye-opener.