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Concert Reviews:
Mary. J. Blige Delivers A "Breakthrough" At DTE
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Introducing Mary J. Blige on Sunday night at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, warm-up MC Black Ice saluted the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul as "a woman who can take her life's pain and make a hit song out of it."

But Blige's two-hour concert, dubbed The Breakthrough Experience, indicated that pain is rapidly becoming relegated to her past -- although the hits, fortunately, are still very much in the present.

Blige's latest album, "The Breakthrough," was created from a place of happiness, celebrating her marriage to music executive Martin Kendu Isaacs (now her manager) as well as the realization that, she said on Sunday, "if I love myself everybody should be able to take me as I am." On stage that meant less lamenting her well-chronicled problems with drugs, alcohol and men and more singing about "Joy" and joyful circumstances for a near-capacity, pavilion-only crowd.

And if some wondered whether the famously tortured Blige could pull it off, The Breakthrough Experience belayed all doubts. Navigating a stylish, multi-leveled set bookended by two staircases and spiced with some special effects -- including moving platforms, a three-section video screen and modest but appropriate pyrotechnics -- Blige and her eight-piece band mined both "The Breakthrough" and her previous catalog for a stylish and energetic performance, adding enough affirmations to fill a month's worth of Dr. Phil episodes (including thanks to her fans for "being my therapist"). But Blige's ebullience lent the show an air of genuine positivity and heartfelt celebration from the opening couplet of "Gonna Breakthrough" and "MJB Da MVP" to the encores "Touch It" and "Family Affair," the latter pair bolstered by rapper Busta Rhymes, via video.

The night's strongest effect, however, was Blige's voice. Changing outfits five times, she sang with the passion and authority of the R&B greats who influenced her, turning in particularly strong and emotive versions of "My Life," "Take Me as I Am," "No More Drama" and "Father in You," the latter a message to Isaacs about her emotional baggage that represented the show's heaviest moments. Blige also introduced singer Dave Young, the first artist signed to her Matriarch Records label, to recreate their duet on "Alone" from "The Breakthrough" album.

The night's only real disappointment -- due to time restrictions Blige had to cut her dramatic version of U2's "One" from the set, although the 25 other songs she did play certainly compensated for the omission.

Thanks at a chart-topping debut album, former Destiny's Child member LeToya Luckett brought a bit more heat to the bill, although her 20-minute opening set -- sung to backing tracks engineered by her DJ -- was fairly inconsequential. R&B singer Jaheim fared better, fronting a live band for a 40-minute set of slow jams that closed with a winning rendition of Luther Vandross' "A House is Not a Home."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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