There was a point during last night's Ariana Grande concert at Talking Stick Resort Arena where the video on the screen behind the tiny pop star scrolled some campy, sci-fi-esque nonsense (with an accompanying voice over which was probably necessary due to about 10 percent of the audience not being old enough to read yet) which culminated with the line, "You'll soil yourself from intergalactic excitement."
I now know this to be from Miss Grande's video for the song, "Break Free," but I couldn't help but chuckle at the idea of how many of her screaming fans at the very well attended show actually had soiled themselves, at least a little, as they screamed their lungs out for the demure 21-year-old from Florida. With multiple, yet subtle costume changes and a gaggle of dancers, Grande put on quite a show for her uber-enthusiastic fans, who didn't seem to care she was singing along with a backing track the entire show.
Normally, this type of thing is not my cup of tea and for the sake of full disclosure, it still isn't. But I had my 8-year-old daughter with me, which got me nods of understanding and solidarity with a few other dads I made eye contact with during the night. We were suffering together. The presence of my little girl, who was taking in her first big concert -- first spectacle, really, also saved me from feeling like some creepy older guy in a sea of Grande wannabe's whose look of choice seems to be the "Slutty Kitten Spring 2015" line.
Luckily, most of the youngsters were in a more age appropriate version of the Grande's signature look, but I still had to wonder about the powerful message Ariana Grande sends her fans while trying so hard to look sexy. Perhaps I'm too old, too much of a dad at this point, or just not into the sexploitation of minors, but it was disconcerting to consider how impressive the actions of such a successful young woman must be to her legions of fans. This is nothing new to ponder by any stretch of the imagination, but how many parents who dropped their impressionable kids off at the concert last night have ever had a conversation with their daughters about the power of being yourself?
Grande's show was over the top, but mostly in a good way. While her songs tend to sound the same to this untrained pop ear, Grande definitely has the pipes to belt out a power ballad, as well as the energy in her delivery to get just about anybody up and moving. Her enthusiasm during her eighteen song set was infectious and her band was top notch, all the way down to her sultry string section who shined during several of the interludes between songs. Another highlight of the band was guitar player who played an impressive solo late in the set. It's always fun to watch a lefty who strings the guitar upside down.
Kudos are also in order for the Talking Stick Arena sound and light crew who put together a great show. Having attended a number of shows in the arena during its 23-year run, this crew really dialed in the production and had the crowd oohing and ahhing. Grande brought the pyrotechnics with full force, but dropping confetti on the crowd multiple times seemed to really excite the under-10 set the most. My daughter was a fan of both the confetti and the awesome purple lasers.
For a little gal, Grande sure seems to like her entrances and exits. Whether she was riding clouds ("Best Mistake") or chandeliers ("Right There"), she was constantly coming and going from stage, often sinking into it with her dancers. This broke up some of the monotony of the music and also masked Grande's obvious discomfort with interacting with the crowd. For such a public person, Grande has very little stage presence when not belting out one of her hit songs. She stumbled through her "thank you" speech to the crowd near the end of her set where she clumsily repeated herself in a way that belied any real sincerity.
Compared to opening act, England's Rixton, Grande's skill at interacting with the crowd between songs was novice at best. The four-piece openers ramped up the enthusiasm and got the screams going early. While they are sugary pop, somewhere between, and I can't believe I'm saying this, an emasculated Fall Out Boy and Nick Jonas, they were entertaining and terrifically engaging. Ariana Grande chose well in selecting them to get the crowd warmed up. Rixton actually plays instruments, as well, so they are not your typical British boy band, even if they play some seemingly typical pop music. They wrapped up their short set with their "hit" song, "Me and My Broken Heart" which has hooks for days if you're a teenage girl.
Overall, the night was actually not a new level of hell for me. My daughter loved the show and I earned daddy points in spades while having a good time watching her and the crowd go into spasms of joy for both Grande and Rixton. Grande is a major star these days and in time will learn to work a crowd like her counterpart, Jake Roche of Rixton, who said, "What's up, Phoenix?" and "Phoenix, make some noise" at least 200 times in their 30-minute set.
Like a tiny robot, Grande struts around stage and adheres to her flawless "choreo" which she said was important in a faux backstage interview broadcast on the video screen before the "countdown" that preceded her set opener "Bang Bang." In the end, Grande even seemed a little out of breath, so it was nice to feel like she had exerted herself. I know my daughter was a little hoarse this morning. In fact, at one point she pulled me down to her level and said, "I don't think I can scream anymore."
Personal Bias: I am typically pretty anti-anything like this, but it is always nice to broaden your horizons. While I'll never buy an Ariana Grande album for myself (or probably anyone else), she was entertaining (as was Rixton), even if I felt like she kept playing the same songs over and over. The only thing to seemingly change was the tempos, and even those were all pretty similar.
The Crowd: Pre-tween, tweens, teens, young gay (and fabulous) men, moms with cat ears, and multiple candidates for father of the year.
Shout Out To: The young man in front of me in the black jumpsuit, fetching black bag, and flawless makeup. Be yourself, keep singing Ariana at the top of your lungs, and fuck what anybody else thinks.
What It Needed: Less of the "which side of the venue" is louder games.
Overheard in the Crowd:Screaming. So much screaming.
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