Live review: Mariah Carey at Gibson Amphitheatre
A nostalgic Carey shows today's divas how it's done in a soaring performance. Lady Gaga and Beyonce, take note.
"Remember the video with the jet skis?" she asked wistfully, referring to the James Bond-inspired clip for her 1997 hit "Honey," which the singer's seven-piece band had begun playing. "They don't make those anymore."
Nor do they make pop divas like Carey anymore. In an era of high-tech performance-art opacity (think Beyoncé or Lady Gaga), her transparent blend of vocal talent and goofy charisma seems appealingly old-fashioned. Tuesday's concert, the first of two at the Gibson in support of last year's "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," felt at times like an attempt to break down the kind of mystique that's grown up around Carey's successors.
Which didn't mean it lacked for production pizazz: Elaborately costumed in a cloud of honey-colored taffeta, the singer made her entrance upon an enormous swing that lowered from above the stage; later, during "Angels Cry," a pair of dancers performed a Cirque du Soleil-style aerial number while suspended from a flimsy band of cloth.
Yet rather than presenting these elements as immovable facts of nature, Carey took every opportunity to expose the business behind the show. Before an effervescent version of "Always Be My Baby," she invited her hair-and-makeup team onstage for a mid-set touch-up, then decided she could do the job just as well herself. "I went to beauty school," she said, powdering her nose. "Five hundred hours in 11th grade."
For "My All," Carey sat in a chair, explaining that her shoes were too tight; within seconds, though, she'd discovered that the chair had been placed out of range of the several industrial fans on hair-blowing duty. So while she waited for a stagehand to fix the problem, the singer took a sip of what she promised was water from a nearby champagne glass. "If you see me drinking from the bottle," she confided, "you know we've got a problem."
What made all these disclosures so endearing, of course, was Carey's singing, which 20 years after her emergence with the melisma-soaked "Vision of Love" has lost little of its uncommon power.
At the Gibson, she sounded as convincing in such up-tempo material as "Touch My Body" and "Obsessed" -- the latter a highlight from the somewhat underwhelming "Memoirs" -- as she did in sturdy slow jams such as the gospel-inflected "Fly Like a Bird," which she dedicated to her late pastor.
Carey closed the concert with a skyscraping rendition of her signature 1993 ballad, "Hero," though not before introducing the song with one more dash of early-days nostalgia.
"I wrote this song a long time ago," she explained, adding that people keep asking her to sing it "because it's helped them through difficult times and stuff."
Carey's biggest hits may be behind her, but her marriage of the plain-talking and the profound remains one of pop's prime pleasures.
Photos: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times