Concert review: Christina Aguilera (finally) returns to Atlanta after 11 years

Fans waited 11 years to see Christina Aguilera live - and then they waited some more.

For a tour that’s been rolling since late September and ending Tuesday, was a near-hour wait for Aguilera really warranted?

But, that’s what concertgoers endured on Sunday night at the Fox Theatre following Big Boi’s prompt, satisfying opening performance.

Of course, by the time Aguilera appeared behind a screen of storm clouds, platinum hair upswept and red ball gown shimmering as she tackled “Maria,” her adoring throng instantly forgave her and screamed like giddy teens as she broke out her patented vocal acrobatics.

Dancers in kimonos swarmed Aguilera as she edged into a bass-drum-heavy rendition of her first hit from nearly 20 years ago, “Genie in a Bottle,” which benefited from a less-dated sound.

But, it was obvious on this song and many others throughout the night that Aguilera’s three backup singers – who flanked a center staircase along with her four-piece band – were handling the heavy vocal lifting.

Aguilera, 37, could still nail the long-held notes, especially later in the show during “Lady Marmalade” and the growling “Ain’t No Other Man.” But the finesse in her range sounded scrubbed off when she yelled more than sang “Sick of Sittin’” – another new track from her long-awaited “Liberation” album, which arrived in June – and even when she “took a trip back down memory lane” for an R&B-spun snippet of “What a Girl Wants” and a fuller version of “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You).”

Like many who have come after her – Lady Gaga, Katy Perry – Aguilera enjoys a bond with her fans, and she made sure to spend some time engaging.

“Thank you for your patience and your love,” she said – patience regarding her long absence from touring, not her tardiness that night. “The stage will always be my home. I will never leave you.”

Before the “Stripped” track “Keep on Singin’ My Song,” Aguilera sat on the staircase and talked about empowerment and individuality, topics that endeared her to young women who were now back in the audience as adults, some with their own children.

The song also indicated that the old Xtina was back vocally, too, as she hit notes high and low, long and impressive.

Though she’s been playing much smaller venues than on her last arena tour, Aguilera didn’t scrimp on visuals.

The production was slick, with several videos dividing the show into segments that merited numerous costume changes – usually in a black, red or white color scheme – and backdrops that ranged from steampunks wearing chaps (“Dirrty”) to an “Eyes Wide Shut”-inspired motif with masks and candelabras (“Deserve”) to a red-lighted staircase (“Ain’t No Other Man”).

While Aguilera’s voice might not consistently retain the intensity of her chart-topping years, she’s still a distinctive force.

Combined ShapeCaption
The always-busy Big Boi also performed at One Musicfest in Atlanta in September.

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

The always-busy Big Boi also performed at One Musicfest in Atlanta in September.

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Combined ShapeCaption
The always-busy Big Boi also performed at One Musicfest in Atlanta in September.

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Outkast luminary Big Boi opened most of the dates on Aguilera’s tour, but it was expectedly special for the Atlanta rapper to play the Fox Theatre with Organized Noize staple Sleepy Brown.

Big Boi entered and exited the stage with one of his “babies” – an owl, perched on his arm – but during his 45-minute set, the stately bird remained backstage as Big Boi, Sleepy and a DJ who actually knew how to scratch records instead of hitting a laptop button, tore through a hits list.

In matching black jackets with “Rocky” emblazoned on the back, Big Boi and Sleepy Brown were warmly welcomed by the crowd as they zipped through Outkast’s “Skew it on the Bar B” and the head-nodding “So Fresh, So Clean.”

The nursery rhyme chorus of “Ms. Jackson” inspired a Pavlovian response – how do you not sing along? – while Big Boi’s solo hit from his 2017 “Boomiverse” album, “All Night,” bounced along smoothly while the ATL-filled video played in the background.

The pulsing “B.O.B.” spotlighted Big Boi’s nimble mic skills, while the insinuating throb of “The Way You Move” pulled listeners along as if on a leash.

Just try to escape it.

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