Mary J. Blige is walking the walk of “The Breakthrough,” the current album that finds the vocalist living and loving with a clean slate and a clear outlook.
The queen of hip-hop soul used optimism Saturday to overpower the estimated audience of 10,000 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
“Breakthrough” selections “Baggage” and “Take Me As I Am” served as companion pieces as Blige worked to distance herself from anguish that accompanied the first 13 years of her career, regardless of that era’s professional triumphs.
Saturday’s rendition of “Baggage” featured obvious visual aids in the form of bags marked “scorn,” “jealousy,” “fear” and “revenge” lined across the stage. During “Take Me As I Am,” Blige sang mightily about not needing anyone to like, love or want her. Her realization of self-worth will suffice.
Older hit “No More Drama” sounded bitter compared to “Enough Cryin’ ” — a similarly themed “Breakthrough” single that moved the audience to stand and sing along.
The New York-based diva made a great point when scolding fans who claim to miss miserable Mary compared to the current incarnation. Nobody knows what she’s been through, she reasoned, only what she’s revealed.
From an artistic perspective, there’s no letdown.
When singing her version of U2’s “One,” Blige conveyed the song’s painful element — “You gave me nothing, now it’s all I’ve got” — more effectively than Bono ever has. As a result, she made the tune’s ultimate message of hope even sweeter.
Guest vocalist Dave Young, signed to Blige’s Matriarch record label, supplied the only snag in the concert’s momentum. He muddled one duet and wasted a solo spotlight on run-of-the-mill material.
Poet Black Ice made a better impression when he introduced Blige at the top of the show. Before bringing her out, he vented about the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina: “It’s a beautiful world where ugly souls push the buttons.”
On the topic of beauty, Blige’s voice deserves recognition. She makes plenty of TV appearances in which it seems she’s too powerful for her own good. But that’s a limitation of the technology. In concert, she filled the arena with the right balance of sweetness and strength.
And the most generous moment of the show, presented as part of Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration, arrived when Blige let her fans sing most of “I’m Going Down” on their own.
[tags]Mary J. Blige[/tags]