Celine Dion blends camp with sincerity in powerhouse concert at United Center

In her first tour in over 10 years, the pop superstar proved herself both a classic diva and an idiosyncratic stage presence.

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Celine Dion performs at United Center on Sunday night.

Celine Dion performs at United Center on Sunday night.

Santiago Covarrubias / For the Sun-Times

Sunday night at the United Center, where Celine Dion arrived as part of her Courage World Tour — her first road trek in over 10 years — the pop superstar proved herself both a classic diva and an idiosyncratic stage presence.

Dion has spent much of the past decade in Las Vegas as part of a residency which ended earlier this year. During the evening’s set, she playfully referenced the large gap in touring.

“I escaped [from Las Vegas],” she joked at one point.

The show was set to start at 7:30 p.m., but in true diva fashion, Dion kept the audience waiting, taking the stage more than 45 minutes later. By the time she made her entrance — ascending atop a riser that emerged from beneath the stage — while singing the opening notes to “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” the audience eagerly forgave her tardiness, hanging on to every word.

Dion spent much of the night singing her biggest hits such as“That’s The Way It Is,” “The Power of Love,” and “To Love You More.” The audience sang along with enthusiasm, with Dion incorporating her classic vocal gymnastics into every lyric.

Celine Dion performs Sunday night at the United Center.

Celine Dion performs Sunday night at the United Center.

Santiago Covarrubias / For the Sun-Times

One highlight came during a performance of “Love Can Move Mountains,” with Dion’s backing band and vocalists turning the standard pop number into a soulful, upbeat romp.

Another came during “All By Myself,” with Dion singing the climactic final chorus a cappella, her voice filling the stadium. This prompted a massive reaction from the audience, who were in awe of Dion’s raw vocal delivery.

Dion’s skill as a live vocalist exceeded expectations. Her voice — while polarizing to some — is in excellent condition, with seemingly effortless high belts and endless vocal runs punctuating the set list. In a particularly impressive series of runs during “Because You Loved Me,” Dion sarcastically remarked to the audience that “it [wasn’t] that hard.”

True to form, her quirky and sometimes bizarre sense of humor shone brightly throughout the night. At one point, Dion repeatedly sang “Chi-town like a diamond” to the tune of Rihanna’s hit song “Diamonds.” Moments like these — including one where she fist-bumped a guitar player, and a series of confusing jokes about leftover Thanksgiving food — helped showcase a looser side of Dion.

Amid the hits, Dion delivered two songs from her latest album, “Courage.” Her performance of the titular track — inspired by the death of Dion’s husband and business manager René Angélil — was an emotional high point. The audience remained silent throughout the song, letting Dion’s voice speak for itself.

Toward the end of the night, Dion emerged in a silver sequined jumpsuit — one of five outfits worn throughout the concert — and performed a medley of covers, including David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”and LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” among others; she performed the latter in her native French.While Dion certainly did not reestablish herself as a disco diva with the medley, the songs were a nice change of pace from the evening’s many ballads, and her slightly awkward dance moves were charming in their own right.

Dion finished the night with a two-song encore, including perhaps her most famous hit, “My Heart Will Go On,” from the film “Titanic.” It was well worth the wait, with her voice sounding just as good as it did on the initial recording more than 20 years ago.

Following that explosive performance, Dion revealed she had one more song left, breaking into a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” It was the most subdued portion of the concert, with only Dion’s vocals and a lone piano filling the stadium. It was a tender, sincere ending to a show focused largely on theatrics.

“I want to give you one last message of peace and harmony,” Dion said.

Emma Oxnevad is a local freelance writer.

SET LIST

“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” (Pandora’s Box cover)

“That’s The Way It Is”

“I’m Alive”

“If You Asked Me To” (Patti LaBelle Cover)

“The Power of Love” (Jennifer Rush cover)

“Love Can Move Mountains”

“Beauty and the Beast” (from “Beauty and the Beast”)

“You’re the Voice“ (John Farnham cover)

“Tous les blues sont écrits pour toi”

“To Love You More”

“Courage”

“All By Myself” (Eric Carmen cover)

“Imperfections”

“The Prayer”

“Because You Loved Me”

MEDLEY: “Let’s Dance”/”Another One Bites the Dust”/”Kiss”/”River Deep, Mountain High”/”Lady Marmalade” (David Bowie/ Queen/Prince/Ike & Tina Turner/ Patti LaBelle cover)

ENCORE

“My Heart Will Go On”

“Imagine” (John Lennon cover)


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