FREEDOM! Freedom of her body…Freedom of her mind…Freedom of her spirit…Freedom through her music, that was the resounding message that was blatantly written on the walls of The Theater at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD when Ms. Christina Aguilera made her return from an ultra long 10 year hiatus from touring, with a stop on her brand new “Liberation” Tour.
Her loyal legion of fans, more affectionately known as the “fighters” have been waiting since the “Back To Basics” Tour for their queen of vocals to hit the touring circuit. In the climate of the music industry today, most give a side eye to those artists who have been known as strong vocalist when they announce that they are attempting to tour after some time, for the sheer fact that many of our divas of yesteryear, quite frankly, have not taken proper care of their throat. With much excitements, we can say this was NOT the case with Ms. Aguilera.
The lines to enter into The Theater were long and packed full of a variety of folks, with much diversity to be noticed, which wasn’t surprising because of the time frame that Christina was introduced to music industry. Her debut album dropped at a time when the landscape of music was starting to change in the late 90’s, and pop music was starting to eclipse hip-hop as the main driving force, but fans of different musical genres started to “cross pollinate” so to speak and were consuming music that was generally out of their lane. THESE were the fans that were in attendance at her show, which worked in more ways for her.
Her opening act was Big Boi, from the legendary rap duo Outkast. I’ll be totally honest, once I first read the press release announcing the tour and saw that Big Boi would be on the tour, I was a little confused, for the fact that their music was totally different, not only in styles, but in the fact that Outkast appealed to a much older fanbase then Aguilera’s. With all of that being said, the fusion of the two worked. For the 30+ minutes that he had the opportunity to rock the stage, we were taken back to some of the best times in ATL music history. Accompanied by Sleepy Brown and a DJ, it was one big Outkast party. At times, I got so caught up in the music that I forgot his brother in music Andre 3000 wasn’t even on the stage to cut up with him.
All of the classic songs were performed “So Fresh, So Clean“, “B.o.B.”, “Ms. Jackson”, “The Whole World” and a few other gems. Granted a bulk of the set incorporated the group tracks from his back catalog, we were graced with a few of his solo jams to. “The Way You Move” was the cut that magically pulled everyone out of their seats and on their feet to hit a syncopated two step wherever they stood. Being a staple artist out of the ATL, he’s been featured on plenty songs over the years, with those verses making an appearance during a few quick medleys. He wrapped his show up in what seemed to be record time, but the fans wouldn’t allow him to leave, with constant screams of “one more song” reverberating off of the venue walls, he bopped back on stage to perform the cult classic “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)“, which really is a song by rap group UGK, but Outkast stole the show on the track, so most people tend to think they were the main artists who released it.
As previously stated, fans had waited 10 years for this tour to come to fruition, but they would have to wait a bit longer because there was an hour long intermission between sets, and the anticipation was building so much that the time seemed to drag on. Seriously, it seemed like the longest intermission ever for a show that I’ve been to, but what we were about to experience was well worth the wait.
At 9:34 PM, the house lights go down and a video image of a huge clock appears on the white curtain that’s covering the stage, with the time counting backwards. This clock would lead into a video intro that showed the pop princess running in haste with the title track of her album overlaid, and in search of something…we suppose she was looking for that freedom that we spoke about before. The words “searching” appeared on the video wall with a resounding “I’M HERE” blurring over the audio system, and then we see a single spot light fill the stage, illuminating Ms. Aguilera atop a raised platform several feet above her stage.
The beginning chords of her new song “Maria” officially opened up the Liberation Tour, with Christina dressed in a Mexican inspired red pant suit ensemble, resembling Frida Kahlo. After being lowered to the main stage, she was greeted by troupe of 6 dancers who help attached a red flowing gown to her outfit and danced an interpretive routine underneath. For the next 2 hours straight she would take us on a journey that I don’t think many people were expecting. Yes ladies and gentlemen, you heard right, the show was a solid 2 hour concert! How many artists out here are giving you an extended length show, on top of not having been on the touring circuit for a while…I’ll wait for your answers because it will take a while to find a valid one response.
Christina asked us to “take a ride with her tonight to her earlier times”, and in the midst of being transported back in time, she was being transformed before our very eyes. Gone was the Spanish tinged attire, and hello Geisha girl! An Asian theme took over for the performance of “Genie In A Bottle“, her very first single. Costume changes were aplenty in this show, as she switched gears for her next segment that felt like a nod to Mad Max and the Thunderdome. Concertgoers were also reunited with an old friend, Xtina. I’m sure you remember back in 2001, the wholesome young lady we were introduced to in 1999 was traded in for a more gritty, adult version for her “Stripped” era. THAT Xtina was alive and well at the National Harbor, as she performed her hip-hop track “Dirrty“, with the famous chaps included! Never did I think that I’d see Christina Aguilera in a pair of chaps again after she “grew up”, but again, she mentioned she was taking us on a trip. I must admit, this was my favorite part of the show since the beat to “Dirrty” has been infectious ever since it originally dropped.
We continued to go back as #1 hits from her first album were packaged into a quick, medley. Abbreviated versions of “Come On Over” and “What A Girl Wants” were over almost as quickly as they started, and I sat there and wondered why. I’m the same age as Aguilera, so I clearly remember when those songs were on HEAVY rotation on MTV, they helped create the landscape for her longstanding career.
Moving right along to yet ANOTHER outfit change (it’s evident that she’s very fond of playing dress up), this time we saw a young lady dressed in pure white to deliver the very first single from the “Liberation” album. “Accelerate” was performed along with her dancers standing on top of a medieval style dinning table, but quickly rolled into a moment where her dancers were able to showcase their individual talent. It was undeniable to see that there’s genuinely a family feel for the crew of this tour. Two of her dancers, Gilbert Saldivar and Monique Slaughter have literally been dancing with her since the “Stripped” era.
In a moment that nobody knew would even happen, there was some love shown for her “Bionic” era tunes. “Elastic Love“, “Woohoo“, “Bionic” were all performed for the very first time live, which sent fans into a frenzy. Some entertainers have the potential to totally ignore songs and projects that may not have lived up to their standard, leaving fans confused when many times those projects contained songs that became standout tracks.
What comes along with a woman who’s telling a coming of age story…a little bit of sex, and well things got a bit steamy when she let us see that she’s still a hot mama with a chair dance ripped straight out of her movie “Burlesque”, that rolled right into the signature hit which displayed her four octave vocal range, “Lady Marmalade“.
In the day and age where women are having to fight for equality almost more than ever, Christina shed light to this ongoing topic, depicted in her piece for “This Is A Man’s World“, which was a cover of the James Brown classic. As she belted out this soulful tune, we watched a scenario of a man physically abusing his wife, until she had enough and decided to fight back. Which lead so beautifully into “Fighter“, which at the time of it’s composition had only HALF the meaning of what it has now to Christina’s life.
The ending message that we were left with was, that through it all, we all need love. During “Unless It’s With You“, one of the most endearing things I’ve ever seen at a show happened. A local couple (Micky and Dawn) were pulled from the audience and given a chance to profess their love for one another. You could tell by the look on Christina’s face that she was so elated to share in the moment, and that she truly is at the point in her life where she loves love.
All in all, the evening was pretty much the “comeback” that we say was needed for Christina. Some people had lost faith in her talent over the years, but her vocal abilities were as mature and controlled as ever, and couple that with the pop tour total package that was delivered, she’s pretty unstoppable now. We just hope that she doesn’t take another 10 years to hit the road again.