Christina Aguilera: Chops, Not Chaps

Aguilera's "Back to Basics" tour stopped at Verizon Center Monday. (By Scott Gries -- Getty Images)
By Sarah Godfrey
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

When Christina Aguilera comes to town, everyone expects the tiny powerhouse singer to break out the chaps. It doesn't matter that Xtina restyled herself with last year's double-disc "Back to Basics," changing her look and sound to fit the style of the '20s, '30s and '40s. Nor is it important that the elaborate sets and Roberto Cavalli costumes of the "Back to Basics" tour, which stopped at Verizon Center on Monday, provide more than enough visual stimulation. Fans seem to require a glimpse of Christina circa 2002, when she celebrated a misguided personal sexual revolution by coming out of her clothes and recording "Stripped."

The people's demands were met when Aguilera performed "Still Dirrty," which essentially explains that while retro swim dresses and silent film star makeup might not be as overtly sexy as chunky highlights and a nose ring, the singer's nasty side is alive and thriving. In a merging of her new and old looks, she donned chaps made of ladylike black lace rather than leather, and, amid cheers, soapboxed about a woman's right to choose to wear as little or as much clothing as she sees fit.

The display could give credence to those who have dismissed "Back to Basics" as a pretty, vintage repackaging of a gently used pop star, but Aguilera's voice consistently shakes off all haters.

Her impeccable pitch and tone cushioned her nervy performance of "Back in the Day," where she strutted her little blond self across the stage while claiming to be resurrecting the music of Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye. Her steamrolling over a vocal sample from '60s singer Betty Harris on "Understand" might read as disrespectful if she didn't sound so good doing it. Even the choice to put last year's gigantic single "Ain't No Other Man" at the beginning of the show, rather than its close, was forgiven when she hit the tune's highest notes.

Bad song order, overconfidence -- it all seems insignificant when Aguilera opens her mouth.

Those pipes were especially wondrous in comparison with vocals from Aguilera's special guests: Diddy's girl group, Danity Kane (whose hit "Show Stopper" didn't exactly make good on its implicit promise to bring down the house), and the Pussycat Dolls. The Dolls, the pioneers who finally knocked down that pesky wall between pop and burlesque, are only as good as lead singer Nicole Scherzinger, who brought depth to the two-dimensional "tramp l'oeil" of "Buttons" and "Don't Cha."

In an effort to push her new sound without alienating old fans, Aguilera gave "What a Girl Wants," "Come on Over (All I Want Is You)," and "Dirrty" all new arrangements in line with her current big-band, pre-Motown soul sensibilities. Yet she didn't dare tinker with her signature ballad, "Beautiful," or the empowering "Fighter," which are as much a part of Aguilera as pants that lack a seat and a crotch.

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