It’s been 22 years since Toni Braxton last performed in the UK. That was as part of her Secrets World Tour and while she’s been to the UK during following that, it’s remarkable to think she’s never brought any of her other tours here until now. Billed as a ‘one night only’ show, which is part of her As Long As I Live Tour, Braxton sold-out the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo and anticipation was very high, understandably so given how long it’s been since she last performed a full show here.
Treating the Eventim Apollo Hammersmith more like it was an arena, Braxton arrive on stage around 8.55pm following a video introduction that recapped her many incredible achievements. Rising out of a platform at the back of the stage, Braxton kicked off the set with a shortened version of Please, the lead track from her 2005 album Libra. That quickly led into He Wasn’t Man Enough, one of the biggest hits of her career and the lead single from 2000’s The Heat. At this point the entire audience started dancing, singing and the seated contingent upstairs rose to their feet to join in.
I’d read some criticism of Braxton’s US shows that the sound quality wasn’t great and that at times she was inaudible. That certainly wasn’t the case last night and I could hear every word, growl and snarl that passed from the icon’s lips. That deep husky tone sounded marvellous all night and Braxton proved she can still hit those big notes. How Many Ways took us way back to the Toni Braxton album from 1993 and the audience went wild. Just Be a Man About It, one of Braxton’s most under-rated slow jams, was sung in full and it was an early highlight for me, and apparently the girl screaming out of tune through the whole song next to me.
Audience interaction was high on the agenda for the night. At one point Braxton sung Happy Birthday to someone in the audience and during Another Sad Love Song she pulled up two fans to sing it with her. Love Shoulda Brought You Home showcased the power that we’ve come to expect from Braxton while Breathe Again was mostly sung by the audience as Braxton climbed down from the stage and entered the packed crowd. For You Mean the World to Me Braxton pulled up a couple who had been dating for 6 months and dedicated the song to them as they slow danced.
For the mid-section Braxton asked fans what they wanted to hear and she sang a medley of How Could An Angel Break My Heart and Spanish Guitar. One surprise was I Wish from 2014’s Love, Marriage & Divorce, a collaborative project with Babyface. The piano ballad was a huge highlight and accompanied by sparse instrumentation, we really got to hear that incredible tone. Another song performed from that album was Hurt You for which Braxton brought another fan up on stage to sing Babyface’s parts and to be fair he did pretty well.
Entering into the final few songs Braxton pulled out Hit the Freeway from 2002’s More Than a Woman, which I wasn’t expecting given that she didn’t perform it on her US dates, and did an extended version of her classic You’re Makin’ Me High from 1996’s Secrets. Before the encore Braxton sang her signature hit Un-Break My Heart and the response was incredible. She delivered a flawless vocal and it was worth the wait. After that she left the stage briefly and returned to perform her final song of the night Long As I Live from latest album Sex & Cigarettes. It was a perfect end to a night with the icon and it left me (and many of the audience members) with smiles on our faces as we left the venue.
If I had one complaint it’s that I would have liked to have heard some of the shortened songs in full. It’s not a huge complaint but Let It Flow only got a little airing and the audience was definitely hungry for the whole song. Maybe on her next visit?
Toni Braxton delivered everything you wanted from her during her long-awaited return to the UK. She packed in all the hits and she sounded in fine form. Given that she’s battled health problems over the years and was diagnosed in more recent times with Lupus (and told she’d never perform again), she still came out fighting last night. With a warm stage presence, a genuine appreciation for her fans and a catalogue of hits that would make any singer jealous, Braxton hit a home run during the 80-minute set. Just don’t wait another 22 years before you come back please Toni!
Set list: 1. Please 2. He Wasn’t Man Enough 3. How Many Ways 4. Just Be a Man About It 5. Love Me Some Him 6. Another Sad Love Song 7. Love Shoulda Brought You Home 8. Happy Birthday 9. Breathe Again 10. You Mean the World to Me 11. How Could An Angel Break My Heart / Spanish Guitar 12. I Wish 13. Let It Flow / You Bring Me Joy (Anita Baker cover) 14. Hurt You 15. Hit the Freeway 16. You’re Makin’ Me High 17. Un-Break My Heart 18. Long As I Live Performance date: 16th November 2019