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Concert Review: Aguilera wows 'em with awe-inspiring vocals

Sunday, August 27, 2000

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Last Monday, exactly a day before Christina Aguilera's debut album was certified seven-times platinum, Britney Spears, a ghost from Aguilera's Mouseketeers days, drew a crowd of more than 23,000 to a sold-out Post-Gazette Pavilion.

  Christina Aguilera sings "Somebody's Somebody" last night at the Post-Gazette Pavilion. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

Last night, Aguilera, having beaten Spears on Grammy night to walk away with best new artist honors, pulled in half that many fans, despite the fact that a portion of the lawn was sold as "buy one, get one free."

And in her own back yard.

As the Battle of the Mouseketeases rages on, with Britney's latest effort breaking records every day, it's clear that Wexford's own was born to settle for critical fame in the shadow of Britney's role as America's sweetheart.

Not for lack of trying.

So maybe there wasn't a pole dance, but in terms of skimpy costuming, at least, the show found Aguilera trying every bit as hard as Spears to be provocative, bumping and grinding her way through the night in only the tightest of low-riding hip-huggers topped by a series of minuscule tops. It was sexy enough to drive home every innuendo of her lyrics. The pre-teens in the audience were loving every minute of it.

As much as she pushes the sexual envelope and nearly matches Spears in terms of spectacle, what separates the Genie from the other pop Lolitas of the moment is the voice, an awe-inspiring instrument she uses like a girl who spent her childhood dreaming she could one day be the next Mariah Carey. And today, of course, she is.

This being a homecoming concert, Aguilera took the opportunity to bring her mother and her sisters up to share the stage on a cowbell-compatible cover of "All Right Now" by Free. It rocked the house.

She also stopped the show to dedicate "I Turn To You" to Shelly Kearns, her mother, asking repeatedly, "Where's my mommy?" Once she found her, she thanked her for cooking her favorite food last night and running to the store to buy some Cheetos and Snyder's potato chips, which Aguilera said, she can't find outside of Pittsburgh.

"All I can say is there's no place like home," she gushed. "It felt so good to sleep in my own bed."

In concert, Aguilera often leaves the melodies of hits like "Genie In A Bottle" to her backup singers, soaring high above the hook like Carey, Whitney Houston or Patti Labelle with something left to prove.

You won't find names like those in many Spears reviews, nor would you find a song like Etta James' "At Last" on Britney's set list. It has become an Aguilera staple lo these past 11 months. And to tell you the truth, it's great to see and hear her sink her teeth into a ballad more substantial than "I Turn To You" or "Reflection," her song from "Mulan."

But other than "At Last," the highlights of an Aguilera show remained the far more playful, youthful pop hits "Genie In A Bottle" and "What A Girl Wants." Not only are they perfect singles blessed with killer hooks, they suit her image to a baby-T. As did the live performance of her latest single "Come On Over (All I Want Is You)," the hottest clip this week on MTV.

The trouble is, what a girl wants -- and desperately, it seems -- is to leave her Mouseketeering teenybopper image far behind and position herself as a womanly R&B diva when, in fact, she's better suited to the sticky kids' stuff.

As she proved repeatedly last night, she has the voice to be a major force in R&B for years to come. But this could be her only chance to be the second biggest female artist of her generation with the lunchbox set. And judging from the future hits with which she packed her set -- "So Emotional," "Somebody's Somebody," "When You Put Your Hands on Me" and "Love For All Seasons" -- the album she's telling reporters she's "so over" could keep Aguilera in the spotlight for at least another year.

So why not just enjoy the moment while it lasts? It's a pretty spectacular moment after all.

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