Review: Mariah Carey keeps it classy on first night of Saadiyat Nights concert series

American pop star brings her hits and bling to Abu Dhabi

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Mariah Carey proved she has the hits for all seasons in her debut Abu Dhabi concert on Saturday.

Fresh from finishing a Christmas-themed tour across the US, the singer retired the Santa-themed costumes and, thankfully, the grating seasonal jam All I Want for Christmas is You, for a show inspired by successful Las Vegas residencies of the past.

Joining her were a cracking band, a gaggle of dancers and backup singers, and a giant backdrop displaying her MC insignia.

Carey herself wore a number of eye-popping blinged-out dresses, sipping tea from a matching, bejewelled water bottle.

For an artist who defined the pop music landscape of the 1990s and early 2000s, Carey seems to take her concert cues from the golden era of Las Vegas acts.

There were hints of Liza Minnelli in her wide-eyed, off-kilter banter and, in certain songs, a steely conviction evoking the likes of Barbra Streisand.

Most importantly, the concert was a whole lot of fun.

Performing in an impressive, purpose-built amphitheatre on Saadiyat Island, Carey packed in as many of her hits in a smooth 90-minute set that went down a treat.

In the trail of her sashaying dancers, Carey took to the stage for a stomping rendition of the RnB jam It's Like That, followed by the sun-kissed pop of Emotions.

The rough edges of the terse Shake it Off were smoothed out by the band for a more loungey version of the 2005 track. The irresistible disco groove of the underrated I'm that Chick, meanwhile, did its job by having the crowd at their feet.

By this stage, we were accustomed to Carey’s languid and studied vocal approach to her material.

The bombastic vocal fireworks of her killer material were employed judiciously for maximum effect as in the tender Love Takes Time and the joyous One Sweet Day.

The added vocal raspiness in the sumptuous cover of the 1931 Jacky Denny hit Nevertheless I'm in Love with You was also appealing, and a good omen should Carey join the likes of Rod Stewart and Seal in recording songs from the great American songbook.

Then again, why would she when her own hefty catalogue includes, at last count, 19 chart-topping hits?

Carey visited a number of them in an exuberant 10-song medley featuring Always Be My Baby, Dreamlover and Honey, setting the scene for a loving take of the fitting closer Hero.

Once again, certain high notes were left to the backing singers and the crowd, but the vulnerability and emotion were all her own.

Kudos to the organisers of Saadiyat Nights for creating an ideal atmosphere for a potentially popular music event organised as part of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi’s calendar of events in the capital.

In addition to the tent-shaped stage located on Jacques Chirac Street, the fledgling concert series features a spacious concourse with picnic tables and kiosks offering upscale menus.

With parking spaces at a brisk walking distance from culinary strip Mamsha Al Saadiyat nearby for pre-gig meetups, it could serve as an ideal option for those looking for something more intimate than mammoth blockbuster concerts at Yas Island’s Etihad Park.

Saadiyat Nights continues with Iranian singer Googoosh on January 20 and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on January 27, followed by a return gig by Sting on February 3 and Lebanese chanteuse Majida El Roumi on February 10.

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Updated: January 09, 2024, 5:01 AM