Back in the old days — oh, 2000 or so — few might have predicted the turn of events in today's celebrity gossip. That Christina Aguilera, then largely regarded as second-string to fellow Mouseketeer turned pop diva Britney Spears, would end up seeming the sane one. The non-skanky one. The shrewd one.
But there you go. Spears' slide into tabloid craziness comes at a time when Xtina, as the hipsters call her, is busy reinventing herself, shedding her tawdry image to play a classy Marilyn Monroe reincarnate — and, in the process, earning the widest demographic of fans she's ever had, as evident by the wildly multigenerational crowd Wednesday night at her Valley tour stop at Glendale's Jobing.com Arena. (more photos)
Minors, unexpectedly, were in the minority at the 85 percent full arena. Instead of a throng of pre-teenyboppers, there was a slew of 20- to 40-somethings. Even several self-proclaimed "old folks" like Marilyn Parver, 56, who drove all the way from Kingman with her husband, Michael Parver, 70, to catch the concert. (And, shh, a home show later in the week. But never mind that, Marilyn said, laughing.)
"We caught her in concert in Las Vegas (in 2003), and it was nothing like this," said Marilyn, who spent Wednesday night bopping and singing along. "She's incredible."
As with her recent album, 2006's "Back to Basics," the concert found Aguilera, 26, wallowing in a seemingly newfound love of old soul, jazz and blues, complete with incorporating a four-piece horn section into her killer live band. Old hits, like "What a Girl Wants," were given new life as old-style arrangements — the aforementioned chart-topper transformed from a simple synthesized dance-pop track to a live dancehall shuffle throbbing on a set made to resemble a decrepit old juke joint.
Tinkering with hits is a dangerous proposition, but at least one fan was happy to hear new twists: "I love the old," said Tempe's Angel Aparo, 30, "but it was nice to hear her make it sound different."
Still, Aguilera's embracing of throwback sounds of old jazz and blues does come across as a bit soulless. Her new style is a broadly indistinct hodgepodge of 1920-50s sound and fashion with some '60s horn-fueled soul and R&B tossed in for good measure. Projecting images of legends like Billie Holiday and John Coltrane behind her, as she did during the song "Back in the Day," can't help but seem ludicrous: This, after all, is the princess of wail 'n' flail over-vocalizing — a young "Star Search" competitor who never met a note she didn't want to yank around the musical scale like a rag doll without sense of restraint or dynamics.
At least she seems sincere about it all.
Against that retro sonic flashback (in which Aguilera seemed to only lip-sync one song, the dance-heavy "Ain't No Other Man"), the show was a spectacle of set and wardrobe changes worthy of a Las Vegas showroom — from the gorgeous Roberto Cavalli-designed white silk and taffeta bustier-skirt combo Aguilera wore early on, to a later carnival set that would wow a Cirque du Soleil crowd, emerging for the song "Welcome."
Of course, at times Aguilera pushed her pop-tart image to the suggestively sexual realms of 2002's "Stripped," whose single "Dirrty" caused an uproar for its raunchy video. And she poked fun of the media image that's followed in the wake of her latest style swap: Tabloid headlines like "From naughty to nice" flashed behind her as she donned lace chaps to belt out "Still Dirrty" ("Still got that freak in me/I still got the nasty in me"). Still, her leggy but conservative new stage fashions suggested Aguilera's sexiness aims more for 1940s cheesecake pin-up poster than Playboy bunny.
Meanwhile, if Aguilera was embracing something old, her opening act, The Pussycat Dolls, was busy trying something new: Turning stripper dancing into pop music success. A Los Angeles novelty burlesque troupe turned prefab pop sextet with a score of idiotic dance hits over the past two years, the group seemingly has only one reasonably talented singer (Nicole Scherzinger) while the rest (including two young women from Phoenix) exist largely as wiggle-'n'-jiggle eye candy, lip-syncing along and performing synchronized coochie-rolls and booty-pops, which apparently count for choreography.
That their set was a complex latticework of stripper poles probably says all one needs to know. Against that ghastly hoochie display, Aguilera seemed mature and refined.
Well played, Xtina. Well played.
Pussycat Dolls set list
1. Loosen Up My Buttons
3. I Don't Need a Man
4. Pink Panther Theme remix/Fever
5. Don't Cha (interlude)
6. Feelin' Good
8. Dance-off/Show Me What You Got
9. Wait a Minute
10. Don't Cha
Christina Aguilera set list
1. Intro (Back to Basics)
2. Ain't No Other Man
3. Back in the Day
5. Come on Over
6. Slow Down Baby
7. Still Dirrty
8. I Got Trouble (video segment)
9. Makes Me Wanna Pray
10. What a Girl Wants
11. Oh Mother
14. Nasty Naughty Boy
16. Lady Marmalade
17, "Beautiful" (encore)
18, "Fighter" (encore)