We waited 29 years — 29! — since her debut album. And 26 years since her first tour. Yes, Minnesota was counting. So when pop diva Mariah Carey made her long, long overdue Twin Cities concert debut Wednesday night at the sold-out State Theatre, does it matter that we waited maybe another 45 minutes into her show to truly experience that voice?
Oh, that voice. Rich and rangy and reassuring. It wasn’t Carey’s fault. The sound balance just wasn’t right. The five-man band was too loud and her voice was not loud enough, often lost amid her three excellent backup singers. The bass — too prominent in the mix, with a lingering echo —marred a series of songs from Carey’s new album, “Caution,” a smartly understated collection of both soothing and sassy tunes.
After her journey into “Caution,” Carey exited, returned in a new red sequined gown, newly curled long blonde hair and an apparently adjusted sound mix. Suddenly, Mariah!
“My All” showcased her all, her most assertive and passionate vocal, a gorgeous, Latin-tinged ballad full of yearning for one more night with him.
Then Carey, who was talkative but scripted, explained that the next song was from her very first album. “It’s actually my very first single,” she said. And it’s the reason that many of the 2,200 fans at the State fell for the young woman with the magnificent voice.
“Vision of Love” — the first of her 18 No. 1 hits on the pop chart, a number topped only by the Beatles — showcased that remarkable instrument, with a midrange that sounded slightly raspy but slinkily soulful. With her left hand cupped behind her ear to enhance her hearing, her voice swooped up to a churchy declamation. And, in true Carey fashion, she glided down from a girlish coo to a deep low note and then quickly turned it around, reaching for a high, held vocal curlicue before wailing at the end.
Mariah was on fi-yah, as they say when she’s in that special vocal zone. That’s what we waited 29 years for.
The rest of the 85-minute set was not nearly as rewarding. Carey is not much of an entertainer. While she strutted and strolled around the stage in high heels and tight gowns, she doesn’t dance. She did have four male dancers to provide energy and glittery pizazz during a medley of 1980s disco-y covers of Indeep’s “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” and Cherrelle’s “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On.”
Carey did the requisite outfit changes, going from one curve-hugging dress to a shimmering gown or leg-revealing get-up with enough rhinestones to make Dolly Parton envious. All the while Mariah was flashing her blingy butterfly rings.
For a glitzy icon who does Las Vegas residencies, the production was strikingly low-budget (with video projections and an sparkle-free staircase), but the 49-year-old New Yorker played the diva — and the mom — perfectly.
As she cooed “Always Be My Baby,” Carey showed videos of her young twins. Near song’s end, those twins, now 7, scampered onstage, microphone in hand, and sang a bit, then pecked her on the cheek.
She paused at the top of the staircase during the middle of her “Caution” segment for what she called “a diva moment.” She summoned her hair stylist and makeup man — her “Glam Police”— onstage for a little touch up.
“Is this over the top?” Carey asked.
Not when you’ve waited this long.