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Carey in Toronto: Her show was a totally competent, 100-minute hit parade.

Mariah Carey

  • At the Air Canada Centre
  • in Toronto on Tuesday

It was getting late. The pre-concert music - Michael Jackson's Greatest Hits - was nearly exhausted. Better be starting something, and quick. Then the giant purple curtains split in half and the skies opened, clearing the way for The Voice of Five (Some Say Four and a Half) Octaves. A full 60 minutes past her appointed hour, the unapologetically overdue Mariah Carey was lowered onto a stage that resembled a platform wedding cake, dangling sweetly in a seat suspended by a pair of ropes.

By that swing fell the imperfect angel.

Carey, long hair swooped to her left shoulder and a cleavage that shouted "you wish," sure was something. After her dreamy entrance, male dancers removed the floor-sweeping ruffles of her gown and the show began in earnest. The song was the heavily rhythmic, modern R&B tune Shake it Off, and although the chart-dominating singer shook her hips a bit, her high-heeled feet budged not an inch. For the lively 2008 hit Touch My Body, Carey seemed in danger of toppling over.

Then she spoke, adorably, about having a "little cold." She sipped tea, said she was dealing with it and asked a half-full arena of worshippers to "have a little mercy." It was a rhetorical appeal - the fans' compassion for the occasionally troubled artist is unconditional.

The lady's star-shine is mysterious: For all her glorious career, the platinum-glittering Carey offers almost nothing to grasp firmly. She is absolutely one of the top record-sellers in history, even if her latest album (last year's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel) was not one of her most successful. But as this slick, totally competent, costume-changing, meticulously choreographed 100-minute hit parade showed, her fame rests as much on heavy-handed music-biz machinery as it does on a leaping, sighing and still-soaring voice.

Carey has a certain ditzy charisma about her, but her expertly produced ballads and hip-hop pseudo soul have the gravity of butterflies and only a pin drop's reverberation. She emoted like crazy at the Air Canada Centre on the precious ballad Angels Cry, but she is not a stirring performer. The success of 2008's E=MC² album may have pushed the sales of Carey's various products to more than 175 million worldwide, yet her fan base is oddly an exclusive lot, composed mostly of love-song-seeking women. The absence of children and heterosexual males among the Toronto crowd was nothing less than striking.

Carey, no dummy, saved her best for last. The slow jam We Belong Together was impassioned, and 1993's Hero was a mawkish but unstoppably affecting and gospel-y crescendo-ballad. Unfortunately, the usually savvy singer disrupted the concert's rising finish by halting the proceedings between those big two tunes, using her audience for a live taping of a video for the new single, 100 %.

That song, a swaying, slow number over a big clunky beat, is part of Angel's Advocate, the name of her current tour (including dates in Ottawa and Montreal earlier this week) and forthcoming remix-and-duets album. Angel's advocates, you bet, Carey is blessed by them. To their hearts and minds, the recording artist with a voice heaven-sent can do no wrong.