Review: Ariana Grande brings ‘Yours Truly’ to Club Nokia

Ariana Grande says things took a dark turn after visiting the popular paranormal site of Stull Cemetery.
(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

Key changes outnumbered costume changes during Ariana Grande’s concert Monday night at Club Nokia, where the ascendant pop-soul singer (and star of Nickelodeon’s “Sam & Cat”) touched down for the final date of her so-called Listening Sessions tour.

It was a big night for Grande: Squinting up into the mezzanine at this packed downtown venue, she thanked her cast mates and various Nickelodeon executives for coming to the show; later, her manager appeared onstage to tell Grande that her debut album, “Yours Truly,” will enter this week’s chart at No. 1.

She received the news by doing her best Taylor Swift -- hand over open mouth, wide eyes beaming happy incredulity -- while her fans cheered proprietarily, gratified by their role in Grande’s success.


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Given the heightened atmosphere (and Grande’s kiddie-TV background), you might’ve expected lights, cameras, action -- a miniature version, perhaps, of current arena productions by Swift or Beyoncé or Bruno Mars.

What Grande presented, though, was both more modest and more surprising: an hourlong set of powerful live singing with accompaniment from a crafty nine-piece band that included two horn players and a violinist.

“My favorite instrument!” she said of the violin.

Wearing a sparkly purple number from her seemingly infinite collection of above-the-knee princess dresses, Grande performed most of “Yours Truly,” which mines the sound of early-1990s R&B -- early-1990s Mariah Carey, to be precise -- with an exuberance that prevents it from hardening into pure nostalgia.

In “Lovin’ It” she showed off the fluttering high notes that have earned her countless comparisons to the younger Carey; “Honeymoon Avenue” had some tart melisma cutting against the creamy lushness of the strings. And Grande’s band repeatedly flexed its technique, transforming the vintage doo-wop throb of “Tattooed Heart” into the kind of soul-jazz workout you could scarcely imagine at a concert by, say, Selena Gomez.

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Even her few concessions to spectacle -- guest appearances by the rappers Big Sean and Mac Miller -- ended up emphasizing her musicianship, as when Big Sean followed his verse in “Right There” by declaring that Grande is “in this for the long run.”

She seemed determined to prove it too in her encore, adding an assured a cappella intro to her summer hit “The Way” and taking a number of harmony vocal lines for herself rather than letting her two backup singers handle them.

At the end of the song, still bubbly but conscious of school-night bedtimes, she hugged each member of her group, then exited stage left. But the band kept playing even as the curtains closed.


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Twitter: @mikaelwood