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Larger than life: Carey, not at the Pepsi Arena.

The Diva in Her Natural Environment

By Shawn Stone

Mariah Carey

Pepsi Arena, Sept. 1

Given 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 stage.

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.

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