Walking into the Hard Rock Live Arena at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on Saturday night to catch Mariah Carey’s latest stop on her Caution Tour, some audience members (OK, just me) couldn’t help but think back to that now-infamous hot mess of a performance during "New Year’s Rocking Eve with Ryan Seacrest" – a performance that was to have helped usher in 2017 with a bang but instead imploded before our very eyes. Though the well-known diva redeemed herself on the same broadcast the following year, the burning question of “how would this performance go?” was difficult to push from my mind.
It really could go either way. It could be the best performance I’ve ever seen on a stage. Or it could be a hot mess – which potentially could still make it the best performance I’ve ever seen on a stage.
But for those like me who were on their guard watching for the latter, they – and I – had to look elsewhere. Because Carey was pure perfection at Hard Rock.
The buzzing audience was already jazzed for this concert long before the lights went down 65 minutes after the show start time stamped on our tickets. As were the theater ushers. Ours, Gigi (her name tag gave it away), said she had one rule in her section, “I don’t care what you shake, but shake something.”
Predictably, sparkle – or more appropriately, “glitter” – shimmered throughout the concert hall with multi-colored sequins on dresses, tops and jackets on both men and women the de rigueur fashion statement of the night.
Just after 8, DJ Suss One began to spin, getting the crowd riled up with throwback songs by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Bell Biv DeVoe and Rob Base. By the time he left the stage, folks were in a major partying mood and more than ready for the main headliner. But they'd have to wait another 25 minutes.
When Carey finally did arrive on stage clad in a short, sparkly silver asymmetrical dress at the top of a staircase, not one person stopped moving for the next 90 minutes – especially her four backup dancers, also in silver sequins, whose breakdance-like moves kept the energy up as Carey sauntered sexily back and forth on stage.
Just days after her 49th birthday, Carey looked years younger. Her mood was friendly and pleasant as she occasionally bantered with the audience, even wishing a lucky audience member a “happy birthday.” She even seemed good-humored when speaking directly to her sound person, calling him or her “darling” when she needed to hear more piano in her earpiece.
“Festive” was the word of the evening for Carey. The audience was festive. Her backup singers were festive. The graphics behind her were festive. Which was true actually. Particularly during “Dreamlover,” when various Ferris wheels and an exciting display of exploding fireworks created an uber fun carnival-like feel.
“Emotions” had everyone dancing along with Carey’s backup dancers. Everyone, that is, except Carey, for whom walking in heels as high as the notes she hit so perfectly was precarious enough.
Her first costume change had her reentering in a long black dress with strategically placed neon pink stripes that lit up. Carey asked that the lights be dimmed so the audience could get a better view of the blinking dress, begging a techie to “please make it pulse to the beat.”
She was vocally on top in “Sweet Fantasy” and “We Belong Together,” both of which brought the crowd to its feet. But it was her 1995 hit “Always Be My Baby” when she announced that she “may or may not have two special guests” come out – i.e., her 7-year-old twins – that really had people freaking out. To everyone’s delight, Moroccan and Monroe Cannon did appear, skipping their way over to their mama, taking the mic and, like true rock stars, booming out “hello, Atlantic City!”
With ex-hubby and dad to the twins Nick Cannon conveniently slated to spin at The Pool After Dark at Harrah’s Resort the same night, it lead some guests (OK, just me) speculating if he, too, would make a special appearance, as the fam seems closer post-divorce than when married. He did not.
After a quick onstage “glam squad” touch up, Carey went into a medley of songs from the “Caution” album that included the title song, “8th Grade” and “GTFO” (think about it). Admittedly “Portrait,” she claimed, was an “emotional song” for her so she asked the audience to “bear with her.” At one point it did seem as if she wouldn’t finish, reiterating that it’s “too emotional.” But pro that she is, she carried on.
Resplendent in a full-length red sequin gown with matching red boa, “Vision of Love” was more like an intimate cabaret show performance than a pop concert for 7,000 people. A single spotlight forced the focus on just Carey, her vocals and the piano, setting a mood and postulating a notion that a career as a cabaret chanteuse might be the way to go if this pop princess thing doesn’t work out.
Though “Glitter” the movie bombed, the soundtrack offered some fun covers by Indeep (“Last Night a DJ Saved My Life”) and the late Robert Palmer (“I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”), which Carey sang while the glimmering dancers skated their way around the stage in a roller disco-esque vibe.
One odd moment transpired during “Heartbreaker.” A singular femme fatale danced briefly in center stage to the song’s intro only to return further into the song for a choreographed mock cat fight with Carey. Of course, the star won. The loser, “out cold” on the floor, was then dragged offstage. It was a scene straight from Carey's "Heartbreaker" video, as any tried-and-true "lamb" would recognize. But ... let's just say it didn't translate well to stage and the encounter left a few folks (OK, me) confused as to what just happened.
Another costume change and a few more chances to hit those insanely high, high notes and Carey said good night. The band continued to play on as she exited.
She did, naturally, return for an encore, this time in a dress that can best be described as “wannabe Disney princess,” with a shimmery bodice and a long, cotton candy pink tulle skirt. She dedicated the song, mega hit “Hero,” to everyone in the audience. When finished, Carey graciously thanked everyone and again said good night. This time, the band continued to play on as we exited.