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Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988.
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988. (Anita Gosch/Stars and Stripes)
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988.
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988. (Anita Gosch/Stars and Stripes)
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988.
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988. (Anita Gosch/Stars and Stripes)
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988.
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988. (Anita Gosch/Stars and Stripes)
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988.
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988. (Anita Gosch/Stars and Stripes)
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988.
Whitney Houston performs at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, West Germany, in May, 1988. (Anita Gosch/Stars and Stripes)

JUST WHEN YOU thought the going was good, it just stopped going.

Whitney Houston came on stage with a bang and a glitter and a flurry of lights Friday night for the first of two near sell-out shows in Frankfurt's Festhalle.

But midway through the two-hour performance — one that was getting better and better with each song — the concert took a sudden turn for the worse. What might have been an exciting show by one of America's most talented, vivacious and refreshing young stars ended up a disappointing, in fact, at times a downright boring, routine performance.

Houston's opening number, the 1987 hit Didn't We Almost Have It All, could well have been the theme song of the concert. The 8,000 fans in the Festhalle almost did get what they each paid roughly 60 marks to see and hear.

There was The Voice, crystal-clear in the cavernous concert hall, ranging from high-energy bellowing to sultry whispers.

There were The Legs, shimmering under the bright lights as Houston and her backup singers and dancers skipped about the stage in a Vegas-style dance routine.

And there were The Hits — or, at least, most of them: the ballads You Give Good Love, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, Saving All My Love For You and The Greatest Love of All and the bouncy How Will I Know and I Wanna Dance With Somebody, along with two gospel songs and two Aretha Franklin covers.

What the fans didn't get was any sense of personality and spontaneity. Each move, each giggle, each "Wooo" and "Awraght" seemed calculated to achieve some kind of effect. Houston's attempt at idle chitchat with the crowd was strained, and even her apparent friendliness was unnatural and superficial.

And she certainly let her fans know from the start where they stood. "Since I can't really see you all, I need to feel you — but from a distance," she warned.

(According to a security guard, the 24-year-old singer apparently is a fearful person even off stage and won't let anybody near her except her bodyguards. For the Frankfurt show she allegedly requested the presence of some eight to 10 military police because of her fear of terrorists. The guard said she also requested that the concert hall be searched for bombs prior to the show.)

What the fans also got were all too many interruptions that kept the show from having a sustained level of excitement. During How Will I Know — the first song that got the fans out of their seats and dancing in the aisles — Houston and her backup singers suddenly stopped dead in a freeze-frame pose for some five minutes. At first the fans worked themselves into a frenzy, clapping, yelling and whistling, until they began stomping (was it impatiently?) on the floor. Finally, the music started up again for a few seconds and then the band did it again — stood dead still on stage for several minutes before finishing the song.

To make matters worse, Houston then took some 20 minutes to introduce the band members and to have a lengthy chat with a single person in the crowd — exciting for him but uninteresting for the rest of the fans.

Somehow, after all these breaks, the thrill was gone.

There's no doubt that Houston's wave of commercial success and popularity will continue for some time. And, maybe, as she gets older and more experienced, she'll develop her own style and stage personality. Right now, all she can do is sing.

If you're a Houston fanatic and her mere presence excites you — go see the show. But, if you don't have a ticket, beware the scalpers. In Frankfurt they were trying to sell balcony seats for as much as 100 marks, when, in fact, there were still tickets left at the box office.

If you're not that big a Houston fan and you didn't get a ticket anyway, count yourself lucky. Go buy the album instead.

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