By David R. Stampone, The Philadelphia Inquirer
The altogether dazzling yet disarmingly human super-diva Mariah Carey was checking some text onstage at the Borgata's sold-out Event Center Saturday night. "I've written a few songs in my life," she quipped in understated explanation. "And sometimes the set list changes."
So it had since her New Year's Eve show at Madison Square Garden. For this date, beginning in earnest her "Angels Advocate" tour, her first live jaunt in more than three years, Carey changed the order and swapped five different songs into her 18-tune set.
One - the romance-terminating "It's a Wrap," from 2009's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, her 12th studio album - was a highlight, allowing the singer to soulfully flaunt her vocal prowess out in front of the occasionally overwhelming backup voices.
Also laudable was the acted-out choreography of a diva's dismissal of her pleading, come-home-drunk guy (one of the nine dancers) with wised-up lines ("I was oh so acquiescent, but I learned my lesson") and her famously fluttering mic-free hand.
More song-specific and Mariah-centric thespian conceits would be a great concert idea, giving Carey enlivening focus for each number - and answering the complaints that the native Long Islander is too inert in performance. (And we know the woman can act, even under pressure: She went from the career-tailspin-inducing cinematic disaster that was her 2001 bomb, Glitter, to awards for her role as a social worker in last year's acclaimed Precious.)
Then again, the 2,200 excited fans in Atlantic City didn't seem to mind the statuesque Carey just walking the stage, casually bantering a bit but mostly communicating via her five-octave range, including the sparingly deployed pyrotechnics of her ultrahigh "dolphin squeal" whistle register.
Such live staples as her deliriously received 1991 smash "Emotions" - an unprecedented fifth consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, one of her countless chart-topping feats - would be unthinkable without those notes.
The closing encore was the inevitable "Hero," but oddly, even though Carey's new record is dedicated to Michael Jackson, she never did her renowned cover of the Jackson Five's "I'll Be There." (Trey Lorenz did emerge midset with Jackson's "Rock With You" in tribute while Carey changed costumes backstage.)
However, Carey got down with some Motown by effectively mashing Diana Ross' "Love Hangover" with her own dancey "Heartbreaker."
And sharing the state of her heart as always, she performed the live debut of "The Impossible," dedicated to her rapper-actor-radio-DJ husband, Nick Cannon (who hosted an after-party at the Borgata's swanky mur.mur club).