Concert review: Celine Dion’s masterful vocals captivate at first Atlanta show in more than a decade

The Canadian superstar played to a sold-out crowd at State Farm Arena

Being an international superstar means that every bit of minutiae is scrutinized, from appearance to status of talent, fashion decisions to choice in companionship.

Celine Dion has weathered much in her 51 years – most prominently the lengthy illness and 2016 death of her beloved husband and manager, René Angélil, followed days later by the passing of her brother. She also endured her own ear surgery in 2018, while in the process of rebooting her life and deciding to end her pioneering Las Vegas residency.

Last summer, Dion wrapped her second round at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace ("Celine," which started in 2011); but it was her "A New Day" series, which commandeered the venue from 2003-2007 that set the groundwork for Vegas as a playground for still-vital arena-fillers (Elton John, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith) as well as less road-worn acts (Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson).

Her legacy there will remain. But despite the millions who trekked to Vegas to witness her live concert, Dion is a shrewd enough business person to realize that millions of others haven’t seen her in more than a decade, when she last traveled the world on her “Taking Chances” tour.

» PHOTOS: Celine Dion performs at State Farm Arena in Atlanta

That changed in September with the arrival of “Courage,” her tour to support the November album of the same name.

By now, more than two dozen dates into a production that will roll across the U.S., Europe and her native Canada with pockets of dates through the fall, “Courage” unfolds as briskly as her Vegas spectacles, a glistening package of professionalism with a coveted ace: Dion’s voice.

On Saturday night at State Farm Arena, Dion reveled in a triumphant return to a city she hasn’t played since 2009. Her joy was evident immediately as she rose from beneath the stage, saluting and waving to the frantic crowd of mostly Chardonnay-swillers while striking the first of many, many, many dramatic poses.

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Then she unleashed that voice on “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” and a sold-out crowd was reminded of what greatness sounds like. Dion’s is the kind of flawless instrument that seems incapable of hitting a bum note, a multi-octave gift that hasn’t lost a sliver of its potency.

“They locked me up in the Nevada desert,” she said by way of explaining her long absence from touring. And then a grin. “But I escaped.”

Dion doesn’t do anything small, and her tremendous band including a four-piece string section, three brass players, three backup singers, a pianist and more, guaranteed that every musical moment of the two-hour concert sounded as rich and layered as her records.

Her repertoire is stocked with glossy adult contemporary pop ballads (“If You Asked Me To,” “The Power of Love”) and inspirational anthems (“Love Can Move Mountains,” “You’re the Voice”) and her set list on this tour adeptly endorses her staggering array of hits.

“I’m Alive” was accompanied by slick red lights to match Dion’s thigh-baring sequined dress – the first of several costume changes that culminated with a snowball of a gown for “My Heart Will Go On” – and a creamy blend of synthesizers and strings backed “The Power of Love,” which Dion delivered with all of the fist clenches and chest thumps a fan could desire.

Her elongated phrasing is its own work of art and, despite the packaged nature of the show, there were plenty of openings for spontaneity, which Dion embraced.

She sought out a fan in the front row sporting a dress covered in Dion photos and sang the chorus of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” to her and later exclaimed with one of her pricelessly kooky raised eyebrow expressions, “That’s all that’s coming off, all right?” after shedding the curtain-like sleeves from a tuxedo-inspired outfit.

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Credit: Akili-Casundria Ramsess

Dion looked impressively fit and showcased some of her aerobic strengths by doing sideways lunges (in heels!) before the booming “You’re the Voice,” written by her Australian friend John Farnham, and later dancing during a spunky medley that included David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Prince’s “Kiss” and a favorite from her Vegas show, Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” As well, one of the black and white videos that played during costume changes highlighted Dion’s ballet dance moves that few could know she possessed.

Dion is always cheerful on stage, as if performing is her lifeblood (and maybe it is?), but she’s also an emotional person.

At the conclusion of the title track for “Courage,” a melancholy ballad that nonetheless achieved liftoff under Dion’s vocal command, her damp eyes and glances upward indicated what she probably feels every time she sings it.

But the centerpiece of the concert came during her hit rendition of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” Dion’s masterful vocal performance, particularly at the song’s apex, was worth 100 ovations, and the one she received moved her to tears.

“Your presence, your applause, your love, your energy, your support…I want you to know, I never took it for granted,” she said, meaningfully.

It’s obviously too early to christen the best concert of the year, but Dion is already a contender.

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