"Nowadays Braxton is classified as 'adult contemporary' yet she presaged Jessie Ware's 'nightbus' and Beyoncé's Drunk In Love era."
Toni Braxton's inaugural Australian tour has been years coming. The multiplatinum R&B star, signed to Atlanta's iconic LaFace Records, blew up with 1993's steamy ballad Another Sad Love Song. A contralto, Braxton's 'quiet storm' soul was closer to that of Anita Baker and Sade than power divas Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. Nowadays Braxton is classified as 'adult contemporary' yet she presaged Jessie Ware's 'nightbus' and Beyoncé's Drunk In Love era.
Tonight Braxton headlines 'intimate' Hamer Hall, casino cabaret stylings apparent. Eschewing diva tradition, she arrives on stage at 9pm sharp, sporting a glam white '70s playsuit, accompanied by a full, if anonymous, band. One of two low-key backing vocalists is younger sister Trina, with whom Toni once sang in The Braxtons. Braxton has promised a hit-centric concert and she kicks off with a buoyant He Wasn't Man Enough from 2000's The Heat, her last album before a brilliant career unravelled due to dark industry machinations.
Braxton programs her mellowest, and smoothest, R&B early. The evening's first mega-hit is Another Sad Love Song. Braxton invites audience members onstage for karaoke and, from here, crowd interaction becomes a major theme, with chit-chat and confessionals. She dedicates the acoustic Let It Flow, her contribution to the Waiting To Exhale OST, to Houston, the tragic diva citing it as a favourite. Braxton's voice soars over a spare arrangement of the epic How Could An Angel Break My Heart, issued on her monumental second album, Secrets. It's spectacular. Ahead of the intense Breathe Again, the preacher's daughter brings up more fans, quizzing couples about their marriages. They slow dance. Sure, it's cute for the participants, but cringe-worthy for those of us who just want Braxton. Braxton schedules a mini-interval, showing footage from her reality TV production (!) Braxton Family Values on an otherwise under-utilised giant screen. Trina then performs Party Or Go Home, her obscure 2012 EDM banger. Toni keeps the party going with the vintage swingbeat You're Makin' Me High, which is notably uptempo. This leads into a rare cover, tonight The Isley Brothers' Between The Sheets, Braxton rapping (impressively). She offers a sampling of 2014's Grammy-winning Motown duet album with her old LaFace cohort Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Love, Marriage & Divorce. Braxton opens up about the illness (and disillusionment) that saw her contemplate retirement, a sympathetic Madonna phoning. But Braxton is a survivor. And her Diane Warren-penned classic finale, Un-Break My Heart, is triumphant.