You know Christmas is officially upon us when Mariah’s 1994 festive anthem All I Want For Christmas Is You makes its annual appearance in the UK top forty (currently at number four) . I remember when the first came out, followed by the album Merry Christmas, a collection of original songs and festive covers. Whilst All I Want was the huge hit from the album, it was the covers Joy To The World and O Holy Night that stood out to me. I remember watching the videos featuring live performances of the songs from a Christmas concert she performed. From that moment on I knew I had to see one of her festive shows. And here we are, over twenty years later. I finally got the chance. Was it everything I expected? In a word, yes.
I’ve seen Mariah a couple of times already and she has never disappointed. She knows what her fans want; the hits. And there’s been a fair few of them over the years. But this tour was never about that. With two Christmas albums under her belt, she has more than enough tunes to put together a seasonal show. It’s the songs from both these albums that make up ninety percent of her latest show.
It was my first trip to Leeds Arena. Arena shows can sometimes be disappointing if you can’t get good enough seats to get a clear view of the stage. The seats we booked were towards the back, but because of how the arena is set up (more like a large theatre than an arena) a good view can be had by all.
Throughout the ninety (or so) minute show, we were treated to well loved Christmas classics like Here Comes Santa Claus, Silent Night and Joy To The World, along with her own tunes Hey Santa and When Christmas Comes (minus John Legend who she performs it with on the album). Whilst her pianist and musical director played One Child as she talked, we were told she wasn’t meant to be playing that one, but then went into an impromptu performance of the chorus. Another highlight of the show was when she performed The Star, her song from last year’s animated movie of the same name. I loved the song when it came out, as it reminded me of those huge ballads Mariah built her career on in the early days.
Everything about the show was Uber-festive. It’s not just the songs, but the staging, the outfits, the elves and an appearance from Santa Claus himself. Add to that the gospel choir and the children singing backing vocals, in one instance (whilst Ms Carey was getting into her next ensemble) a solo from her backing singer’s son Jayden. It’s clear not only from the staging, but her entire approach that Christmas is more than just a money spinning scheme for Mariah. She clearly loves the festive season. If you weren’t in the Christmas spirit before you walked through the doors of Leeds Arena, you certainly were on the way out.
There were just three non-festive tracks, which appeared at the end of the show. New song The Distance from her brand new album Caution didn’t get the crowd singing along quite as much as the rest of the set, but then she moved into her huge hit We Belong Together from Emancipation. This was followed inevitably by Hero. It wouldn’t be a Mariah show without it. I’ve never seen a crowd performing quite so much air grabbing, and I’m including myself in that.
Mariah has taken some flack over the last few years. Her New Years performance no doubt still haunts her dreams. But she is obviously more practiced and polished now than she was on that night and more sounding better than ever. Her recent Vegas residency has obviously got her in good voice. Love her or hate her (and it has to be one or the other. No one quite likes her) if you’d sat through this brilliantly festive show, you can’t deny that definitely still got it.