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Ariana Grande’s strong vocals outshined by gimmicks: review

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Jim Farber

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Saturday, March 21, 2015, 12:29 AM

Ariana Grande performs onstage Friday night at Madison Square Garden.Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Ariana Grande performs onstage Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Cat ears sprang up all over Ariana Grande’s show at the Garden on Friday night.

In several sections, the star sported a sprightly pair, as did hundreds of her fans, mainly girls in the pink years between 7 and 16, accompanied by doting parents.

The feline points have become something of a signature for Grande, a winking allusion to her breakout acting role as Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon network.

Here, they took on a secondary role — as a revenue stream. Fans could purchase their own glow-in-the-dark pair for an eye-popping $ 40, or a slightly less extravagant no-glow version at $ 20 a pop.

Long lines of fans snapped up both, bonding them with Grande, as well as with each other. The exchange sealed the tone of the night as one giant slumber party, with Grande playing a kind of big sister and chaperone to her fans.

As snugly as the tone suited Grande’s tender target demographic — which hits the low end of Katy Perry’s crowd — it made for an odd contrast to the grown-up character of the star’s vocals.

Grande owns by far the biggest, and most dexterous, voice in her age range (she’s 21). Yet much of her first major arena tour seemed hell-bent on distracting us from that. The show sounded as many bells and whistles as possible, from the flashpods that exploded during the opening number — “Bang Bang” — to the papier-mache cloud that propelled the star across the stage like a fairy princess during “Best Mistake,” to the chandelier she rode in “Right There.”

It left the star herself — already a rail-thin figure — seeming overwhelmed. The 10 dancers that swarmed her at every turn didn’t help — nor did an added gimmick that directly undermined her central talent. A video presentation explained some new device known as “Mi.mu gloves,” designed by British singer Imogene Heap. By moving your hands, the contraption manipulates your voice, which Grande demonstrated during the song “Why Try.”

One had to wonder why she bothered. When you’re blessed with so burly a natural voice, why employ a device that makes you sound like a robotic kazoo?

The effect underscored other limitations in Grande’s singing. While she sounded physically strong and agile at the Garden, the emotional connections lagged behind. At times, she also pushed her singing into the shrill.

Grande’s potential came through best when she finally slowed down to belt out the doo-wop ode “Tattooed Heart” and the grand ballad “Honeymoon Avenue.”

Unfortunately, in much of the rest of the show she came off as a powerhouse vocalist in search of a center, an eager-to-please young star who could use more seasoning.

jfarber@nydailynews.com


Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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