Mary J Blige, Thursday 5th June 2008, MEN Arena, Manchester
Review - T2 Bad
The Mary J Blige experience reminds you just why they call it Soul music.How often do you pay your money and see someone actually bare their soul, spill their emotional guts right there in front of you? Mary, remarkably, can do it every night. It’s sometimes not pretty, it’s often raw, visceral, teeth-clenchingly intense. But it’s real!!!
And Mary is about nothing if not keeping it real. She is also perhaps the sanest person ever to talk about herself in the third person. Her life may seem like so many tabloid clippings: raised in the projects, victim of child abuse, success followed by drink and drug problems, ill-advised relationships, the lot. Hear her sing 'No More Drama', though - stomping from one side of the stage to the other in her spray-on black catsuit and heels, hollering that primal scream, then squatting down in exasperation and beating the stage - and you see this life turned into a rare and authentic kind of art. It’s a plea for an end to living in interesting times, and it’s one of the great soul songs of all time.
Of course there is much joy now in Mary’s life. Happily married and sober, she can rhapsodise about that in Be Without You. At 37, she can also express satisfaction with herself and the way life turned out in the jaunty new song 'Just Fine'. But somehow it’s the darker moods which enthrall, when Blige exorcises her demons. It was a hearteningly mixed audience in terms of age, gender and ethnicity. But when Mary talks, she tends to talk only to the ladies. “When I come to town, we gotta have a conversation,” she told the sisterhood. From here on in, the men were bystanders, and not too innocent at that.
The opening line to 'Not Gon Cry' said it all: “While all the time that I was loving you, you were busy loving yourself.” Hang your heads in shame, fellas!!! But, steady on, didn’t another Soul luminary tell us that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all? Perhaps best not to argue. Mary had emerged not so much clad as vacuum-packed in tight white trousers, top and high-heeled boots, sporting gigantic shades and blonde bob. Behind her a crisp, efficient but anonymous band conjured that thing of which Mary J is deemed queen - Hip-Hop Soul!!!
There was a string section for added sophistication and a Soul Controlesque Trouser Flappin Chest Tumpin' Bass Beat which would stun a charging rhino!!!! All eyes were on Mary alone, and all ears, as she punctuated such delights as 'Sweet Thing', 'Everything', 'Take Me As I Am' and 'I’m Going Down' with a seminar on empowerment, imparting nuggets of wisdom on bruised relationships and taking pride in yourself, urging the girls to “Work what you got”!!! The womenfolk screamed back their approval, singing along to every line.
Soul Control Verdict:
There’s a wealth of truth in Blige’s songs... and enough material for a whole series of Trisha. This concert was well worth the time, money and expense! How long can Mary stay at the top? Well this remains to be seen. She's seen them all come and go but MJB has stood the test of time and long may it continue!!!
Soul Control Rating: