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Houston Has a Problem in London

LONDON - Hundreds in the audience walked out of Whitney Houston's comeback concert here Sunday as the singer once dubbed "The Voice" missed high notes, cut short her songs and apologized for her shortcomings.

"She don't want to come, my soprano friend," Houston crooned after stumbling through a gravelly version of signature song I Will Always Love You. She blamed the air conditioning in The O2 arena, whose 20,000 seats had sold out for her first London performance since 1999.

"Sometimes the old girl sings, but not tonight," she said of her voice. "I want to do it, but she doesn't want to. . . . She's getting a little . . . temperamental, even."

Houston sang just one or two verses of hits such as Greatest Love of All. She paused during songs to catch her breath and panted heavily in between. In many songs, her backup singers carried the melody, Houston chiming in with lines here and there.

The star was onstage for most of the two-hour concert, her first of three at the venue, taking only two breaks to change clothes. Those three outfits - form-fitting black leather pants, a clingy black gown and tight jeans - and the stuffy arena may have contributed to the sweat streaming down her face.

The concert "is rubbish," said Mark Higgins of Hampshire. "She can't even complete a song." He said he'd asked for a refund and was told to contact the concert promoter. His daughter had given the tickets to him and his wife for Christmas. "She's going to be heartbroken, because she saved up all her money for this."

"I remember her 20 years ago," Dave Law, of Plymouth, said of Houston. "She's not a patch on what she was."

Law's wife, Caroline, a longtime fan, disagreed. "There were moments I absolutely loved. You have to take the bad with the good."

Houston's London show was the latest troubled performance in her Nothing But Love world tour, which was supposed to mark a comeback for a singer of outsized talent and outsized troubles. She was a no-show for her first three concerts in Great Britain this month and blamed her absence on a respiratory infection.

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