NEW YORK — For the most part, this city was a dismal place to be this weekend. It rained, the temperature dropped (again) and, most horrifically, the sports teams continued to drip with wack juice. The Knicks got knocked out of the playoffs, the Mets continued to be the black sheep of Queens, and the Red Sox gave the whole borough of the Bronx a big gas face by kicking the Yankees' butts.
Fortunately, NYC did have one reason to rejoice. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul was home and in prime form for a three-night stint at Radio City Music Hall. She may not be flooding the airwaves or selling the most records anymore, but for those in attendance, the crown still lies with the b-girl from Yonkers, a cleansed sinner who has found salvation through self-love.
There's an emotional attachment Mary has with her following that most of today's singers can't evoke. Yeah, there are ladies who put on stage performances so spectacular, they make master performer Michael Jackson yell, "Hee, hee." There are singers whose voices are so commanding they bring a tear to your eye. But how many singers really open up so much about their life that you really feel that you've lived it with them?
Friday's show kicked off with a film showing Mary seated at a boardroom table, listening to a group of advisers, including new manager Mathew Knowles. Suggestions such as having Mary add more "bling bling" floated around the table, much to M.J.B.'s disdain. She abruptly got up to leave, telling her business inner circle that her fans understand who she is.
Knowles approached the exiting Blige and reminded her that the music business is about money and that she'd better "get it." As she got into an elevator, the screen split in half, revealing Mary in the flesh, standing on a pedestal in sweatpants and boots. As she was lowered, Blige reminded everyone she was nothing without her fans and started singing the remix of "You Remind Me."
Backed by dancers, Mary followed up with a string of classics once heard on every block and club, including "You Don't Have to Worry," "Real Love," "Be Happy" and the "Love No Limit" remix. "Come on, y'all," she yelled, dancing like the young Mary fans first fell in love with — the one with the boots, jersey and baseball cap.
"Thank you for accepting the past, present and future Mary J. Blige," the singer said as the cheers came to a low roar at the end of her medley. Blige then showed off skills learned during her recent off-Broadway stint, acting out kicking her boyfriend to the curb during "My Love." She gave him the hand-to-face, singing, "Whatcha gonna do without my love?/ My love/ Whatcha gonna do/ Now that my love has gone away from you?"
It took a few minutes, but Mary went from "My Love" to "My Life" after changing into a dressy jumpsuit. Mary's graceful singing was given added impact when a collage of photos was displayed on the screen, dating from Blige as a toddler to her marriage last year.
"My life is just like yours," she insisted after the record was done. "Money means absolutely nothing if your head ain't right. My head still ain't right, but I'm on my way."
During a moving, almost spiritual rendition of her next selection, "Your Child," Mary's traumatic life experiences began to spill over into her tale. She talked like a preacher, telling everyone she wanted to sing about a girl whose dad had walked out on her when she was 4.
"Why didn't you want me, Daddy?/ Why didn't you tell me I was somebody?/ Why did you deny me, Daddy?" she began to sing with heart-wrenching tension, making the audience feel like a fly on the wall during a real-life confrontation. She continued to talk like a spiritual adviser, telling the crowd that it takes two parents to raise a child and that she used to be an "alcoholic, drug-induced whore."
"You don't want your daughter growing up like I did," she calmly said. "But I'm still here."
The cheers kept coming in during "Not Gon' Cry" and "Everything." "I dedicate this song to y'all, because you are everything to me," she explained before the latter. And she's everything to her fans. At the conclusion of her set, chants of "Mary!" filled Radio City until she came back out.
The first song from her extra-innings set was "Willing & Waiting," during which she once again danced and proclaimed the record to be "so New York!" By the time "Not Today" came on, the entire audience was dancing at their seats, and some of the venue's ushers were dancing in the aisles. The track's guest star, Eve, appeared via the song's video. Mary employed the same tactics for Lil' Kim and the G-Unit, who rap on "I Can Love You" and "Ooh!" The finale of M.J.B.'s return to the Big Apple was "Family Affair." No "hateration," just crunk admiration.
Mary's opener was Musiq, who kick-started the audience with a flurry of tunes from his three LPs. With just a fraction of the stage time Blige had, the Soulchild went right for the jugular, singing mostly singles and popular album cuts like "Love," "Girl Next Door," "Just Friends (Sunny)" and "Forthenight."
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