THE FIRST question needed to be addressed after seeing a Whitney Houston concert is which of the four we saw is the "real" Whitney Houston?
Is it the one who began last night's show in a skin-tight cat suit and awkwardly fumbled through the dance steps and breathy, over-souled lyrics in the first four songs? Is it the one in the evening dress who followed it by belting out another quartet of love songs with power and passion rarely seen at Merriweather Post Pavilion?
Is the real Whitney the one who wore a headgear microphone, white tank-top and knickers, who danced, rather suggestively, with her four male dance partners? Or is it the softhearted woman who brought a deaf teen-age girl onto the stage to sign the theme from "The Greatest" for an encore?
Will the "real" Whitney Houston please stand up!
Best bets say that it's Whitney No. 2 -- the one who delivered "All At Once," "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" and "All The Man I Need" with incredible intensity. As she closed her eyes and threw back her head in a state of euphoria, she wasn't just showcasing her vocal range or soul-singing ability, but more of her true heart and soul.
You just can't ask for more than that.
But there remain two parts of the dancing Whitney that constitute the "Rhythmless Nation."
Houston has admitted in interviews that she doesn't like to dance. It doesn't take 15 seconds to realize why. Then, the question remains, why does she? Especially in four-inch heels?
With pipes like hers -- and make no mistake about it, the refrain in "All The Man I Need" was the most inspired vocal performance you will hear in this or any other concert season -- all that is necessary is for her to simply show up and sing the songs.
No choreographer. No transforming "How Will I Know" from a dance song into a soul song. No butchering of "Saving All My Love For You" by slowing it down and dragging it out. No series of costume changes with five-minute breaks featuring, of all things, audience-invoked rap music. No silly sideshow of four slinky male dancers.
We saw, for a brief period of time, just how great she could be.
She isn't Madonna. She isn't Janet Jackson.
She's Whitney Houston, and her beauty has and always will be her voice and her way with a chorus. All she needs now is for someone who is in charge to tell her.