It's pretty much accepted fact that pop musicians have to switch identities every album or two to stay ahead of the curve. Everybody does it -- Justin Timberlake, P!nk, Madonna -- with varying degrees of success.
Mariah Carey, who brought her Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel tour to Dodge Theatre Saturday night, has demonstrated herself to be a master chameleon for very nearly 20 years. From the shy chanteuse in a simple black dress who released her first single, "Vision of Love" in May 1990, to the wizened Mottola-marrying Industry Queen who reneged on her plan to give "Hero" to Gloria Estefan, to the Ghetto Fab "Heartbreaker" Mariah who had rappers dropping verses on top of everything she recorded in the late-1990s, she's played the field.
Mariah Contemporary is a sparkly, self-effacing Ditz Diva, as she showed last night with a running joke about "very hydrating" coconut water. The Ditz Diva is a good character -- probably heavily influenced by the sensibilities of her husband, the comedian/actor Nick Cannon -- but, unfortunately, it's not quite versatile enough to wring the best out of Carey's complete catalog.
Dropping from the ceiling on a swing, dressed in a sparkly gold dress, a womanly-figured Carey showed up front she wasn't going to attempt any of the de rigueur Basic Pop Singer Dance Moves she never quite pulled off. Wisely, she barely interacted with the dancers during the show -- even as one later dangled precariously over her head doing Cirque du Soleil-style gymnastics on a rope during "Angels Cry" -- instead concentrating on cultivating the fruits of her famous five-octave range.
Two Mimi tracks, "Shake It Off" and "Fly Like A Bird," were highlights of the early part of the set. "Always Be My Baby" -- for my money, the ultimate gem of Mariah's mid-'90s zenith -- showed some chinks in the Ditz Diva armor. The song is incredibly versatile (it did accomplish the rare feat of topping both Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart) but this tale of doomed but not forgotten love, while technically perfect, didn't quite work for the Ditz Diva. Maybe some denim and a return to the swing could've helped, but I doubt it, so long as the quest for coconut water was still such an important part of the show.
Likewise, I was almost a little offended by Mariah's half-hearted pitch for her new Angel Champagne Rose. I don't know why Mariah would even get involved in the gauche celebrity-endorsed fragrance/liquor trend at this stage of her career -- she couldn't possibly care about the money -- but if she's gonna pimp booze I'd like to see her really go all out and sip the stuff on stage before making an impassioned plea for our cash.
"Be Impossible," which she dedicated to her hubby, was another lowlight, as the song's bassline sounded like it was rattling out of the trunk of a 1988 Cutless Supreme. After that it was up to a discoed-up "Heartbreaker" and a stellar version of "Honey" to show why Mariah has earned her identity. "Obsessed" -- her 2009 Beyonce-lite smash single which is probably the least "Mariah" of any Mariah song ever released -- was delivered well, as was "We Belong Together," which Mariah called "very nostalgic."
"It was a long tone ago, but this is for you," she said before delivering "Hero" as an encore. You can't blame this nearly 40-year-old woman for nearly forgetting the feelings that drove her to write the song. By the same token, it was nice to see the Ditz Diva persona set aside for a second and acknowledge it.
Then, as the song reached a crescendo, some guy threw what looked like a flower and a note at Mariah, hitting her, then put his hands in the air so security could find him and escort him out, which they promptly did.
Maybe "Obsessed" isn't such an un-Mariah song after all.
So oh oh oh oh.
Last Night: Mariah Carey at Dodge Theatre
Better Than: Honestly, I'm not sure if it was better than Beyoncé at US Airways Arena or not.
Personal Bias: I borrowed my little sister's copies of Unplugged and Music Box; I bought my own copies of everything from Butterfly forward.
Random Detail: Okay, I admit it, I was really hoping to hear "The Roof" on a rare rainy night in Phoenix.
One More Thing: A note to the Republic's Larry Rodgers: Mariah doesn't "largely nail" the notes. I'm not sure I've ever heard Mariah miss a note in her career.