A lot has been made of Mariah Carey’s last couple of shows. Her Gold Coast show was plagued with sound problems and poor reviews popped up for both her Gold Coast and Sydney shows. I am here to tell you not to believe the tall-poppy-cutting hype.
Mariah Carey’s enormous stage glowed with a glittering butterfly briefly before the diva entered the stage to play her “theme” Can’t Take That Away via what looked like the bedroom of an Egyptian pharaoh appearing through a gap in the screen. “Melbourne, I’ve waited a long time for this” she said as the screens turned to a downpour of glitter (look, there was a lot of glitter, okay?). It had been fourteen years since she last entered a stage in the city.
The first thing I noticed is that this show was definitely not “flawless” as a rushed press release issued in damage-control after poor Gold Coast reviews claimed the Sydney show was. “Flawless”. I had read the press release the day before the show hit Melbourne and expected disappointment. “Great,” I thought. “Another pop show more choreographed than the ballet with as much emotion as a bag full of rocks.” But much to my surprise, Mariah Carey doesn’t do flawless. Not to take away from her well-documented incredible vocal gymnastic abilities, but just a handful of times throughout the 90 minute show she wouldn’t quite hit a note or she would have to catch her breath or even just giggle into the microphone. It was these flaws that made this show actually feel like we were watching a real musician on stage with real personality. Carey’s performance hadn’t fallen into the stale ditch that so many pop performers seem destined to find themselves in – especially those who seek out stardom in the inoffensive pop your grandmother would approve of like Mariah Carey.
Though she did give the occasional nod to the modern music world – during the song My All, which Carey had introduced with an apology for canceling a Melbourne show during her 1998 tour due to illness, the synth-heavy backing band played tribute to Skrillex with a bit of “wub-wub-wub” as each dancer took a dance-solo in the remixed outro – much of the show was a nostalgic trip back to early 90s R&B-tinged pop and it showed in the audience who seemed to consist entirely of people aged between 30 and 40.
It wasn’t just the songs that made this such an enjoyable show though. It was the quirks that come with putting a microphone in front of Carey’s mouth. “Yes I know we have to move on, I just want this thing!” she shouted at a faceless person off stage presumably talking to her in her earpiece. She refused to continue until someone had brought her “this thing” a fan had given her earlier in the day. While we waited, she sang an a capella chorus of her song Thanks For Nothing after a fan in the front row had asked for it with their homemade banner and watched her fumble around telling someone backstage to hurry up. Eventually, a small object was brought to her. “Someone gave me this,” she said hiding the as-yet-unidentified object in her hand. “I’m not going to do any endorsements, but maybe I’ll just take a little sip.” She let the cameras get a shot of the distinct VB logo plastered on the can she was holding and the crowd cheered. Who had expected to ever witness Mariah Carey taking a sip of VB in their lifetime? With a scrunched up face she laughed and said “I’m not really much of a beer drinker,” and handed it back. It was moments like these that made the show entertaining.
Carey’s long-time backing singer Trey Lorenz took centre stage for a duet the pair first did in 1992 as part of her MTV Unplugged album – The Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There. After that, Carey left the stage for a costume change while Lorenz sang Michael Jackson’s Rock With You before introducing the band while they played an instrumental version of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy complete with a nod to The Isley Brothers’ Shout. “Dearly beloved, we are here to celebrate this thing called 2013!” he said in a slightly dorky fashion.
The set was noticeably lacking some of her biggest hits (including Heartbreaker and Fantasy) but her biggest – Hero – was much appreciated by the crowd. During other shows, this was the end of the main set, but not here. “We have to hurry up. They are very strict about their curfew here,” she told the crowd, so straight into the encore she went. We Belong Together closed the show, complete with glitter cannons.
2013 marks 23 years since Mariah Carey’s first single. That’s a long time in pop diva years. I have to be honest, I hadn’t spent much of those 23 years paying any attention to her, but after last night, even a jaded rock-pig like myself can appreciate why this instantly lovable, quirky and supremely talented performer is still around. Ain’t nobody can sing like Mariah Carey and I’m glad I got the chance just once in my life to not only hear her hit those high notes, but really know that I was hearing her hit them then and there. I am not inspired to go and listen to her entire back catalogue, but I do find myself with a newfound respect for her. Mariah Carey, you’re okay with me.
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The full set list for Mariah Carey live at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, 5 January, 2013 was:
Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)
Touch My Body
Shake It Off
Always Be My Baby
I’ll Be There (Jackson Five cover – with Trey Lorenz)
Rock With You (Michael Jackson cover – Trey Lorenz solo)
Let’s Go Crazy (Prince cover – Trey Lorenz introduces the band)
It’s Like That
Fly Like A Bird
Close My Eyes
We Belong Together
Watch Mariah Carey’s entrance in Melbourne as filmed by a fan below: