Live Review: Toni Braxton – 13th September 2015 – Opera House, Sydney, Australia
While Toni has kept a relatively low profile over the last ten years when compared to the stratospheric peaks she reached in her 90’s heyday around releases like Unbreak My Heart and Breathe Again, the singers talents have not diminished in the slightest with her vocals remaining in top form and her stage presence as alluring as ever as she delivered a career spanning package of hits to fans at Sydney’s famous Opera House last night.
Having released a collaborative album in 2014 alongside long-time friend and musical collaborator Babyface, the focus was not on her recent material. Instead, last nights performance was heavily focused on her impressive back catalogue of singles that have covered the best part of the last 3 decades. The Hits Tour is Braxton’s first tour of Australia and what better way to celebrate the long overdue stint than to bring some of RnB’s most successful numbers to her fans who have waited a couple of decades to see the superstar perform down under.
Reminding us of her time at the top, Braxton opened with the catchy He Wasn’t Man Enough from the musician’s 2000 studio album, The Heat and from the opening notes of the mid-career highlight, fans were on their feet and belting out the track with the musician who took the stage dressed in a white lace top and hot-pants and looking as youthful as ever.
Long-time followers and Braxton catalogue aficionados found particular appreciation in some of the singers lesser known numbers such as Love Shoulda Brought You Home, How Could An Angel Break My Heart and Let It Flow; the latter being Whitey Houston’s favourite Braxton song, the star explained before dedicating the track to the late singer.
When the time came for her to turn out some of her mainstream staples, the crowd lapped up every note with numbers like the slow-paced Breathe Again and the closing power ballad brilliance of Unbreak My Heart having the crowd gushing over the icons pitch perfect delivery and dramatic stage presence. Up-tempo classics including early career highlight You’re Makin’ Me High added a pulsating dose of 90’s nostalgia to the 90 minute Braxton set while a performance of The Heat single Spanish Guitar found a brief spot in the centre of a 3 track improvisational segment which included Yesterday and I Don’t Want To.
Unfortunately with the good came the bad and there were several issues that stuck out like a very sore thumb during the performance. While Braxton did her best to deliver a showstopper for her fans, her entourage of security left a bad taste in this reviewer’s mouth.
Between songs a stagehand would frequent the performance to tape something down, adjust one of the backing singers mics or even, at one point, adjust Braxton’s mic mid song giving the performance a somewhat amateurish feel. Several key songs were also left in shambles with audience members invited up onto the stage to sing with Braxton and while this added an personal touch to the show, the overuse of doing this meant that the focus was removed from some of the staple singles performed during the night making some of the bigger numbers casualties in the set.
Her performance of Breathe Again started off with an invite extended to two couples who took to the stage to meet Toni and tell their stories of finding each other. What started off as a romantic gesture ended with Braxton taking to the front rows to meet fans up close. While fun for those lucky enough to steal a snap with the RnB diva and while her singing was top notch, those wanting to hear the number performed in its intact entirely were left disappointed.
Unfortunately the same was also the case with up-tempo hit You’re Makin Me High which had several audience members crash the stage. This resulted in her henchman aggressively taking to them like an overprotective pit bull, forcing them away from the singer and off the stage while Braxton tried to ensure him that they were ok. Even when the singer was pulled to her knees and nearly dragged into the crowd by an intoxicated female fan, Braxton excused this as overexcitement before the audience member was removed from the show by her security as the crowd was distracted.
I’ve been to hundreds of shows over the years and never have I seen such diva behavior from the help. Even Madonna shows have a much more relaxed and less presidential feel to them. It made for a very awkward performance which was a shame for Braxton who tried her best to divert the focus away from the commotion but it was fairly unavoidable to most in the crowd. Even an interlude of the Braxton Family Values reality show on the big screen which was followed by a tacky performance of Sister Traci’s new single, Party or Go Home, couldn’t help breathe life into the shows mid-section.
There were some nice moments though where Braxton met her fans including an impressive performance by a New Zealand fan who was celebrating her birthday at the show and, after belting out a line in the upper levels of the venue, was invited on stage by Braxton for a brief singalong. This helped put the wheels back on the show which, for a good period of time, had been slightly derailed.
The set-list captured almost all of Braxton’s most successful hit singles and dated back to as early as her 1993 debut album with tracks like You Mean The World To Me, Another Sad Love Song and Breathe Again paving the way for a trip down RnB memory lane and reminding the audience why she is regarded one of the most successful female artists of the 90’s. The hit singles sat modestly beside some of the stars latest singles, which she wrote and recorded alongside fellow RnB megastar Babyface for the duo’s collaborative Grammy Award winning album, Love, Marriage and Divorce. This was delivered through a trio of tracks from the record – Where Did We Go Wrong , I Wish and Hurt You – finding a comfortable nesting spot before the night was sealed with a dramatic and pitch perfect performance of the singers most successful single, Unbreak My Heart.
From her performance last night within one of the world’s most iconic music venues, it’s easy to understand the appeal of this pint-sized superstar and to hear why Toni Braxton was and still is a musical force to be reckoned with. It was a great shame that so many elements of the performance fell apart as it was through no fault of the singer who remained gracious and adoring to her legions of fans that filled every seat of the Opera House. Her hits have spanned over 20 years and for her time in the industry the singer has been awarded almost every musical accolade there is for a chart topping diva to acquire. It was evident throughout her performance that there is plenty more to come from Toni Braxton. Let’s just hope she leaves the pitbull’s at home next time.
He Wasn’t Man Enough
How Many Ways
Seven Whole Days
You Mean the World to Me
Love Shoulda Brought You Home
Another Sad Love Song
Just Be a Man About It
Let It Flow
How Could an Angel Break My Heart
Braxton Family Values Interlude
Party or Go Home
You’re Makin’ Me High
Between the Sheets (The Isley Brothers cover)
Yesterday/I Don’t Want To/Spanish Guitar
Where Did We Go Wrong
Un-Break My Heart