Ari­ana Grande takes her fans to moon and back

The Buffalo News - - GUSTOSUNDAY - By Ben Siegel

Don’t worry, she’s fine. Ari­ana is fine, ev­ery­one. She’s had a tu­mul­tuous year for any per­son to en­dure, celebrity or oth­er­wise – the whirl­wind ro­mance, en­gage­ment, sep­a­ra­tion and open mock­ery of her re­la­tion­ship with “Saturday Night Live” star Pete David­son; the tragic death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, with whom she had pro­duced mu­sic; and the resid­ual after­math of the 2017 ter­ror­ist bomb­ing that took place fol­low­ing her Manch­ester, Eng­land, con­cert, killing 23 and in­jur­ing many more.

The re­lease of two ful­l­length al­bums (“Sweet­ener” and “Thank U, Next”) within a six-month win­dow is noth­ing to balk at, ei­ther. This pro­jected re­siliency over these many months shows a strength of char­ac­ter that few of her pop peers might have been able to pull off as well as she has. She’s got a real voice, and knows how to sing it. And rest as­sured her sig­na­ture pony­tail – which did not ap­pear the last time she per­formed here – is once again swing­ing like a li­on­ess.

On stage Fri­day night at KeyBank Cen­ter, for the third stop on the Sweet­ener World Tour, she took us to the moon and back.

That kind of ac­tu­ally hap­pened. Pic­ture it: Two-thirds into her 27-song set list, fol­low­ing a jaunty med­ley of “Right There / You’ll Never Know / Break Your Heart Right Back” and a sub­lime “NASA,” a gi­gan­tic white sphere de­scends upon a tiny satel­lite stage in the mid­dle of a fan pit. She’s en­gulfed by anx­ious, bar­rier-sep­a­rated fans and their starry-lit cell­phones, but ev­ery­one’s aglow in a heav­enly 360-de­gree pro­jec­tion of the moon on this enor­mous float­ing orb, which tem­pers nerves and un­ex­pect­edly soothes.

In stage pro­duc­tion terms, it is a cal­cu­la­tion of ex­quis­ite stage­craft and bom­bas­tic spec­ta­cle. It works beau­ti­fully. “Good­night n Go,” one of her lat­est elec­tronic lul­la­bies, is the per­fect match for this kind of tech­nol­ogy, and the cherry on top of an al­ready im­pres­sive Ari­ana Grande 7:30 p.m. Fri­day in KeyBank Cen­ter

show.

The rest of the show ex­ists as if in ce­les­tial or­bit of this mo­ment. A curved white back­drop at the head of the stage is flanked by another large white round thing – a flat­ter but con­toured panel on which pro­jected im­ages give the ap­pear­ance of look­ing through a look­ing glass or mag­ni­fied makeup mir­ror.

A stream­ing wa­ter­fall rushes down the sur­face of the stage and onto a long oval­shaped run­way that this week has been tweeted as look­ing toi­let-like. But in all, a so­phis­ti­cated, re­strained look..

The set list largely cov­ers both new al­bums, os­cil­lat­ing be­tween “Sweet­ener’s” gen­tler pre-en­gage­ment grooves to “Thank U, Next’s” rougher post­breakup con­fes­sions. A tri­umphant “God Is a Woman” opens the show with a “Last Sup­per”es­que tableau. “No Tears Left to Cry” throws a fun party at the set’s clos­ing. And “Thank U, Next” re-cre­ates the nos­tal­gic hu­mor of its mu­sic video, clev­erly re-cre­at­ing fa­vorite woman-led re­venge come­dies of the last cou­ple decades.

Only the mid-tempo banger “Breathin,” a stand­out track that never re­ally got its pop­cul­ture mo­ment, is kind of wasted in its direc­tion, but it still leaves an im­pres­sion. Al­most all of the pre­vi­ous hits are there, too – “Dan­ger­ous Woman,” “Be Al­right,” “Break Free,” “Into You,” “Side to Side” – some abridged but in full swing. Hard to find fault in the mu­sic here, or in her ra­di­ant, rafter-reach­ing so­prano.

Open­ing act So­cial House proved noth­ing, ex­cept that there’s only one Flava Flav, and these guys aren’t it. Nor­mani, on the other hand, gave the most per­fec­tion­ist, pre­pared, re­searched and ex­e­cuted open­ing set I’ve ever seen. She chan­nels all of Bey­once’s call­ing cards – and prob­a­bly a few from her tour boss Grande – but makes her­self known as a name to re­mem­ber.

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