I’m not a big Christmas music guy. Yeah, true, technically I’m Jewish, but that hasn’t influenced my stance that the majority of popular Christmas songs are cloying, saccharine and annoying. I don’t like to rock around the Christmas tree; I’m not interested in Santa Claus coming to town. On a long drive on Christmas Day last year, my wife and I listened to an hour of holiday music before I got bored and turned on the newest Charli XCX album. I have been called a grinch.
None of those facts mattered at Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You concert series on Monday night (Dec. 14), when the hour-long performance and hoopla surrounding it made my heart grow three sizes. Carey’s eight-night residency at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan might be the most euphoric music experience in the city right now; even if you weren’t dressed as an elf or sexy Santa or candy cane or whatever, you had a marvelous time with MC as your emcee, because there was no option not to.
Backed by a five-piece band, three backup singers, a gospel choir, a dance company, a cast of adorable children and Santa freakin’ Claus, Carey put on an full-fledged spectacular instead of relying on straight vocal takes of the Christmas classics. To be sure, the 45-year-old’s voice is still has jaw-dropping live as it’s ever been, especially in a semi-intimate setting like the 2900-capacity Beacon Theatre. Her melismas on “Silent Night” exhilarated, and her high notes on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” soared to the balcony. But the bells-and-whistles engrained in the concert—a Frosty costume here, a Peanuts montage there, and hey, here’s an elegant ballet number—made the show feel kinetic and spontaneous, even if it’s the same script Carey has been reading for multiple nights.
Still, none of the bright lights or tap-dancing tykes could outshine the true star of the night: Mariah’s unflappable diva-dom. Carey projected her larger-than-life personality from a slimmed-down frame, nodding to her adoring front-row fans, shouting out her babies, making muscly men carry her around on their shoulders and teasing a third holiday album to join 1994’s Merry Christmas and 2010’s Merry Christmas II You. “I was making my holiday playlist on the way here,” Carey mentioned at one point, before waving off a few shouts from the crowd. “No no, it’s definitely not ALL me.”
And then there was the finale; oh, dear lord, that finale. Before dropping the obvious night-capper of “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Carey dropped an unexpected hammer and brought three non-holiday songs out of the vault. “Emotions” into “We Belong Together” into “Hero,” three unbelievable chart-toppers that juiced the show back up after nearly an hour of Christmas jubilation. For those who didn’t peek at the setlist ahead of time, hearing a few Mariah all-timers in a non-arena venue was a dream that was fulfilled in the eleventh hour in the show. And, yes, even I admit that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” rules.
My friend Hilary is attending all eight of Mariah Carey’s Christmas shows this month for the Village Voice; when she told me her plan, I thought she was out of her mind. Now, after witnessing the unbridled joy in person, I’m jealous that she gets to go again tonight. If you have a Scrooge in your life, take them to this show, because they’ll be singing carols on their way out. If you like Mariah but aren’t sure if her Christmas showcase is for you, believe me, it is. Do whatever you can to find a ticket to one of Mariah’s final nights at the Beacon Theatre, because you better believe that those nights will be holy.