Review: Mariah Carey at Oracle
–By Jim Harrington, Bay Area News Group
Mariah Carey knows how to make a lasting first impression.
Her entrance to the stage on Friday night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland was a diva-licious act of pure grandeur. It began as the house lights dimmed and the spotlights spelled out the star’s first name against three-story-tall stage curtains. Then the curtains parted, revealing a bare stage floor and a full band situated on an elevated platform in back.
At that moment, the star began to descend into view, riding a swing as she was lowered from the rafters to the stage. The near-capacity crowd erupted at the site of the singer, who wore a sparkling gold formal gown that just screamed “red carpet.” The dress would only stay intact for a few minutes, before the lower portion was ripped away to allow Carey the legroom to properly work “Shake It Off.”
Friday’s concert was the most completely satisfying performance that Carey has delivered for local fans in several years.
What went right? It all boils down to having a stage show that plays to a performer’s strengths, and that’s exactly what we found with this “Angels Advocate Tour” stop. For one thing, the set list was focused on the big ballads – Carey’s greatest strength – which allowed the star to properly showcase her amazing five-octave vocal range.
Equally important, the stage show was smartly choreographed with a tight focus on giving fans what they really wanted – as much Mariah as possible. Too often, these kind of big pop spectacles feature so many frills – from multiple video components to crowded dance routines – that the real star of the show is often lost in the mix. That didn’t happen at Carey’s concert.
There were some dance bits and other theatrical elements, but they rarely seemed to crowd Carey. Plus, placing the band members on the elevated platform was a stroke of genius, one that allowed the singer to work the entire length of the stage and truly interact with a large portion of the audience.
Continuing through the sexy bedroom romp “Touch My Body” and the gospel-tinged “Fly Like a Bird,” Carey showed an uncommon degree of restraint in her vocal work. Somewhere along the line, she’s learned the art of setting-up a big moment, which requires an understanding of pacing. The result at Oracle was that when she hit one of those unbelievably high notes, or sailed off on some other type of vocal acrobatics, it truly meant something to listeners.
Between numbers, and when she wasn’t changing outfits, Carey exhibited much personality and was successful in connecting with the near-capacity crowd. She alternated between the diva role, such as when her hair and make-up crew came out to freshen her up onstage, and that of the goofy celeb known for saying things that make the tabloids. The silliest she got was in talking about the making of the video for “Obsessed,” [Correction: “Up Out My Face”] the first single from Carey’s last album, 2009’s “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.”
“We are playing Barbies in the video,” she said. “And that was a dream come true for me.”
In all, Carey was funny, but didn’t provide the kind of YouTube moment that some have come to expect from the star.
“I’m not making any speeches tonight,” remarked Carey, in reference to the rambling speech she gave earlier this year at the Palm Springs International Film Festival after winning Breakthrough Actress for her role in the Oscar-nominated “Precious.” “So, I guess we should be cool.”
Carey was beyond cool – she was downright well-mannered. She said she was watching her language, and substituting words, out of consideration for the younger fans in attendance. That same logic was the reason for a playful “white lie” that Carey told the audience, as she downed a glass of champagne in two gulps.
“That’s some nice apple juice that my auntie gave me,” she explained to the kids.
The “apple juice” didn’t affect her vocals – certainly not in a bad way. The singer – who Billboard Magazine proclaimed as the best-selling artist of the ’90s – poured herself into the sweetly nostalgic “Always be My Baby” and the burning ballad “The Impossible.” She closed the concert with a tremendous version of “Hero,” which – out of the more than 40 Hot 100-charting singles of her career – may well be her true signature song.
The show’s end was as impressive as its start, at least for this critic. For the first time ever, I wanted more Mariah as she departed the stage. Usually, that feeling only happens when she enters it.