than life: Carey, not at the Pepsi Arena.
Diva in Her Natural Environment
Arena, Sept. 1
Mariah Carey’s reputation for, shall we say, varying public
emotional states, there was some real suspense at the Pepsi.
Which Mariah would show up?
The successful Mariah, as it turned out. Perhaps nothing builds
confidence like a hit record—and The Emancipation of Mimi
has been a smash—because Carey was relaxed and at ease on
She was, in fact, more than at ease. She was in her element:
Put Carey on a busy stage filled with musicians and dancers
and video screens, in front of 7,000 or so screaming, adoring
fans, and she’s as serene as an omnipotent queen at court.
Relaxed and happy, Carey sang the songs the audience expected.
There were the past No. 1 hits including “My All,” “Always
Be My Baby,” the still-infectious “Fantasy” and the show-closing,
anthemic “Hero.” There were the new hits from Mimi,
including “Shake It Off” (in which Carey does Beyonce better
than Beyonce does lately), “Stay the Night,” “Fly Like a Bird”
and the inevitable choice for the encore, “We Belong Together.”
There’s been a lot of speculation about the state of her voice;
it was impressive, with just a hint of raspiness at the edges.
(Well, she’s 36 now: Maybe that’s why photographers were forced
to shoot from far, far away from the stage. Really, though,
she needn’t have worried.) The sound system was amazing—I
could understand every word she sang.
Something must be said about the costume changes. While these
created the usual awkward transitions—God save us from irritating
DJs—Carey reversed expectations, starting out wearing practically
nothing, and adding clothes as the show went on.
It was hard to imagine seeing another show as dazzling as
the multimedia extravaganza Nine Inch Nails brought to SPAC
in June, but this matched it. The stage was framed by a giant,
light-up “M.” There were multiple video displays above the
stage, including a porthole-shaped one at the apex which almost
always displayed a close-up of Carey, and additional screens
on both sides of the stage, outside the “M” frame. The visual
quality was excellent, and the camera work expert. It wasn’t
all about video, either. At one point, a disco ball over the
center of the floor filled the arena with swirling light;
it was like being inside a snow globe. With all the high-tech
eye candy, it was hard to focus on what was happening on stage.
But not that hard.
Carey’s an old-school diva. She didn’t dance; there were four
men and two women to take care of that. She didn’t descend
from the rafters by wire (a la Beyonce), or be borne around
the arena on a float like an empress (as Shania Twain once
was at the Pepsi). When she performed a few songs on a ministage
set up near the back of the floor, she walked down the aisle
to get back on stage. Carey was there to sing, which was enough.