With a pink “M” illuminated behind her in the shadows and a short, cleavage-baring silver dress clinging to her curves, Mariah Carey edged down a few stairs and into the spotlight.
As her five-piece band throbbed behind her and a quartet of charismatic muscle boys frolicked, Carey dove into “A No No,” the new single from her 15th studio album, “Caution.”
The last time the songstress played Atlanta was in 2017, on an arena co-bill with Lionel Richie. While the surroundings might be smaller this time – the Fox Theatre wasn’t quite sold out on Tuesday night – Carey seemed happier and more confident guiding her own spectacle as she treated her devoted “lambs” to about 100 minutes of glistening diva-dom.
This is, after all, a woman who, without a hint of self-consciousness, sipped from a straw jutting from a glittered bottle (“a spot of tea,” she said with a smile) and received a makeup touch-up onstage about a dozen songs into the set.
But on the fourth date of a tour that will roll through North America and Europe through June, Carey, luminous in her late-40s, started early with the important things – like those glass-shattering notes. Her frothy “Dreamlover” included a patented crystalline yelp at its start, while her “whistle register” was ably employed during her 1991 classic, “Emotions.”
Carey is such a studied pro that she instinctively lifted her left hand to her ear when approaching a piercing note – the better to hear herself – and throughout the show, her voice resided in prime multi-range form. Even “Vision of Love,” performed late in the set, glided along with finger-snapping, soulful finesse.
Her three backup singers added depth and gospel-tinged texture to “Anytime You Need a Friend” and other power ballads. But Carey, who slipped backstage a couple of times for costume changes including a hip-hugging black dress with hot pink piping and a fuchsia gown, was firmly in vocal control.
Two of her new songs – “Stay Long Love You” and “8th Grade” – were necessary inclusions considering she has an album to promote, but are prosaic and forgettable. Far worthier are the title track and her sassy declaration, “GTFO,” which Carey joked “became my anthem last summer.”
The briskly paced show managed to hit the highlights – and fan favorites - of Carey’s notable career. Any ballad slowdowns were countered by segues into club grooves – the “Sweet Club Mix” and “Bad Boy Mix” for “Fantasy” and the “Mr. Dupri Mix” for her 1996 No. 1 smash “Always Be My Baby,” co-written and produced by Atlanta’s Jermaine Dupri. That performance featured a Snapchat-fast onstage cameo by Da Brat, who breezed through to hug Carey.
Even the much-maligned “Glitter” period was redeemed with a medley that included Carey’s take on the 1980s disco pumper, “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” as well as the Cameo-sampling “Loverboy” and a glossy read of the Cherrelle/Robert Palmer slink-fest, “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On,” all performed with a carefree wink in front of a vibrant roller derby backdrop.
The show’s production was well-suited for the smaller confines of a theater without ever sacrificing razzle dazzle. A series of video screens spread across the stage bore images of fireworks and Ferris wheels, white doves, and, in a particularly inspired moment, sweet footage of Carey with her twins, Moroccan and Monroe (spoiler alert – the cuties dashed onstage at the end of “Always Be My Baby” to sing a couple of notes and kiss their mom).
Carey has always teetered between presenting herself as a prima donna to be admired from a distance and a gracious recipient of her fans’ steadfast adoration. That hasn’t changed. But vocally, she’s resumed her live prowess – a commendable feat nearly 30 years into a career and one worth cheering.
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