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Concert Reviews:
Mary J. Blige still da MVP at DTE
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Mary J. Blige could have easily taken the night off on Friday, Sept. 14.

Oh, the declared Queen of Hip-Hop Soul certainly needed to be present for her Liberation Tour stop at the DTE Energy Music Theatre. But if she was so disposed Blige could have gotten away without singing a note and letting the audience fill in for her -- which it did enthusiastically on songs such as "Love No Limit," "Good Woman Down," "Everything," "I'm Goin' Down," her cover of Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" and most of the 23 songs Blige touched on during her 90-minute set, beaming as she listened to the crowd singer her lyrics.

But Blige, promoting last year's "My Life II...The Journey Continues (Act 1)" album, was there to work, and she gave the DTE faithful a characteristically charged and emotive performance as she delivered her musical messages about strength, resilience and empowerment. "Guys," she said at one point, addressing the men in the audience, "I'm not leaving you out. I'm just talking to my own kind, 'cause we need help sometimes." It was an unnecessary explanation.

Blige got her own help from a solid five-piece band and an even more crucial trio of backup singers whose arrangements were as integral to the most of the songs as Blige's lead vocals. With inspiration from special guest Anita Baker, watching side stage -- "You're the reason why I'm here right now," Blige declared to the Detroit songstress -- she tore through a fierce opening set that ran the gamut from tortured ("Feel Inside," sans Nas' guest rap) to defiant ("Enough Cryin' ") to buoyant ("Real Love") and triumphant ("Outstanding," "Love No Limit"). Other special moments included torchy deliveries of "Not Gon' Cry," "My Life" and "No More Drama," an exuberant coupling of "Be Happy" and "You Bring Me Joy" and an energetic romp through "Midnight Drive."

The show was a bit shorter and more modestly staged -- though still with plenty of eye candy -- than some of Blige's recent headline jaunts. But she left no doubt that this Queen's crown still has plenty of shine.

Blige also benefited from a solid build-up to her set. D'Angelo fired up the crowd by walking down one of the far aisles to start his show, then romping with his 10-piece band through an hour of mostly funky, James Brown-by-way-of-Prince jams, including "Brown Sugar" and a new song called "Sugar Daddy." Up-and-comer Melanie Fiona slashed and burned like a younger version of Blige, belting out songs from her two albums, though Star Shell, a rookie on Blige's Matriarch Records label, couldn't help but be an afterthought as she sang to pre-recorded tracks without drumming up a great deal of excitement from the small early-evening turnout.



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