Mark Guarino, The Chicago Sun-Times
Mariah Carey doesn't have to be contemporary and she doesn't have to be old school because she's both.
At the Chicago Theatre on Saturday, the first of two sold-out nights, she showed the fruits of a 20-year career: a sampling of crossover pop hits spanning R&B balladry to hip-hop soul.
Her skills came to shine in her older material, which in her possession sounded as ferocious as ever.
What stood out in isolated moments of Saturday's show was her ability to produce vocal riffs that overtook songs ("Fly Like a Bird," "Emotions") and pushed them higher into mighty pronouncements of pain, desire and inarticulate bliss.
These were moments that continue to give Carey such staying power.
Unlike the spectrum of ladies in her wake, from Barbra to Beyonce, Carey remains the people's diva. (There is a reason she is the best-selling artist of the last 20 years, behind only Garth Brooks and the Beatles.) On Saturday, she let us know she is one of us â€” insisting she was sipping water in a champagne flute less anyone think differently â€” but when launching into song, her voice said otherwise.
Her show featured a four-person band, three backup singers and nine dancers, all of whom provided enough action that Carey did what most singers these days do not: stand still. While lip-synching and intensive dance choreography have made singing a second banana for most contemporary singers, Carey didn't feel the need to prove she could dance. As if to prove her point, on "Angels Cry," the visual was handed to two gymnasts who performed aerial choreography â€” yet even they became distractions to her vocal calisthenics.
Instead Carey's show kept pace by mixing up ballads and pop hits, with several costume changes and comedic zingers thrown in for good measure. She relaxed on a chaise lounge where she received hair primping and makeup touch-ups; she also played market researcher by interviewing the audience about whether or not she should endorse her own line of shoes.
By her encore, Carey delivered "Hero," her signature anthem. Although she started the show in the rafters, lowered to the floor on a swing while donning a princess gown, by evening's end she slipped into a black cocktail dress and interacted with the audience like she was hosting a party in her living room. Versatile? Like a fox.
Greg Kot, The Chicago Tribune
Mariah Carey was doing that diva thing Saturday in the first of two shows at the Chicago Theatre: Poured into a gleaming, silver gown; eyes closed; self-absorbed in the moment of singing how her lover had done "The Impossible." All the while, a male dancer a few feet off her left shoulder was bumping, grinding and eventually popping his pectorals like a circus act.
Carey didn't break stride, but then as the song wound down, she cracked up. "Did you enjoy that?" she asked the audience with a laugh, as if to let everyone know she was in on the joke all along.
Of course none of it would work if Carey didn't have the voice to back it up. Her latest album, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," is her best work yet, a warmer and more subtle album that makes her more relatable to those of us who aren't Mariah diehards â€“ or "lambs," as she refers to them. The thaw-out carried over into Saturday's show, and gave new perspective to older songs that once were defined strictly by technique.
For many her defining moment was the 1993 hit "Hero," her encore. It's a template for the generation of singers featured on "American Idol," a singing style that dictates emotions instead of evoking them. On Saturday, she trotted out a few of those dog-whistle trills that she popularized in the early â€˜90s, turning Minnie Ripperton's soul into a vocal tic. In the late â€˜90s she flirted with hip-hop, a rhythmic flexibility that carried over into her performances of "Honey" and "Heartbreaker."
But it has always been the ballads that kept her swimming in bling, and so it was Saturday. Whether ramping up some gospel-style fervor on "Fly Like a Bird" or dialing it down to a near whisper on "Angels Cry," Carey has slightly less vocal range but is a much better singer now than when she was enjoying her biggest sellers.Erik Bradley, Music Director, B96
Mariah was in typical great spirits and back in full voice after recovering from a pretty bad cold earlier in the week. The sold-out house was in the palm of MC's hand all-night, reacting to most (if not) all of the 90+ minute set, most excitedly to "Obsessed", "Always Be My Baby", and "We Belong Together". She did "The Impossible" and "Angels Cry" from the Memoirs album and "Emotions" came back in to the set after a few shows off the list. Another sold-out Chicago show awaits tonight and we're all hoping for a "Vision of Love" Valentine's Day moment tonight!