In concert, Christina Aguilera’s greatest gift — that massive “And I am telling you I’m not holding back one bit” voice — can also be her biggest liability. Indeed, as much as Xtina’s patented brand of bombast worked wonderfully on noisy howlers like “Makes Me Wanna Pray,” “Lady Marmalade,” and “Fighter” during her concert last night at Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey, it also managed to clog up renditions of “Back in the Day,” “Come on Over,” and “What a Girl Wants.” The problem was especially evident on the latter two numbers; with the songs’ arrangements completely overhauled, it became all the more crucial for Aguilera to stick with some semblance of melody on the verses and chorus. Instead, she let her backup singers carry the tune, choosing instead to riff and yelp intermittently, often striking her favored bent-at-waist, hand-in-air, wailing pose. In the case of “Come on Over,” I honestly couldn’t figure out what the heck I was hearing till the song was half over.
To her credit, though, even after months of touring, there’s no doubt The Voice still has the ability to thrill. Not only that, after enduring the tinny track that blasted support throughout the Pussycat Dolls’ scantily clad opening set, I’ve got to applaud any chart-topping pop diva who seemingly spends as much on a brass section and expansive live band as on gimmicky sets and props. The nifty graphics and video montages that served as Xtina’s backdrop were consistently effective, with the exception of woefully unsubtle and thoroughly distracting shots of a battered woman during “Oh Mother.” Hopefully, as she continues to mature artistically, Xtina will realize the real drama comes when she ditches all her accouterments and tics, and just flat-out sings a gorgeous ballad like “Beautiful” or “Hurt” or “Welcome” (my favorite track off Back to Basics). Well, that, and also performing “Dirrty” astride a carousel pony.