On Tuesday evening Owen and I were exposed to a force of nature - no not Bob Crow and the striking Tube workers - but the awesome Mary J. Blige at the O2 aka BackOfBeyond2.
We saw Mary in 2008 when she was promoting GROWING PAINS and were blown away by her powerful presence on stage. Up until then, although I had enjoyed her albums, I was always wary of seeing her. On the way to Greenwich I read something that reminded me of the first time I heard of her - and why I had doubts about seeing her live.
There was much vocal discontent at the Forum on Monday night when Big Boi from Outkast performed a set which was - with encore - less than an hour. Back in the day when I worked at First Call, I remember a quiet midweek evening being interrupted by phone calls from angry punters outside the Hammersmith Apollo complaining that they had paid good money to see the new NY hip-hop sensation - one Mary J. Blige - who was on and offstage within 45 minutes. We were quickly told by the promoters to remind them that the event was just billed as a "Personal Appearance" but I remember sympathising with their complaints and, despite liking her a lot when I finally got to hear her, remembering those angry calls.
Well that was then... and this is mos' def' Now!The evening got off to a great start with finally hooking up with blog pal David of David's Daily Dramas albeit sitting in the atmosphere-free zone that is the O2 exclusive bar! It was nice to finally hook-up - after 3 years of trying. Doing this we also eschewed the charms of support act Lemar.
We had seats in Block 102 so were relatively close to the stage and after an opening aural soundscape of Mary's name being read out at award shows, news broadcasts and celeb endorsements, the stage was ablaze with light and there she was launching straight into the fabulously autobiographical MJB DA MVP and we were off.With great lighting accentuating her gun-metal lurex cat-suit, Mary staggered and swaggered across the stage, stomping and swaying to her backing band. She looked sensational - and apart from two homies who appeared occasionally to bounce around ineffectually behind her - she was out there on her own... no dancers to take up the slack every 20 minutes or so, no pyrotechnical displays, only one quick costume change... just Mary and her voice.
Mary always give good value too, each song usually are mini-medleys of at least three of her songs which can be infuriating - just as you think "Oh Wow I love this one", she's moved on to the verse and chorus of another song! However, when you have 18 years of material to draw on you might as well do as many as you can. Oddly enough it means she never concentrates on her latest album as most artists would and there were quite a few tracks from STRONGER WITH EACH TEAR that I was expecting to hear but didn't. I would have given plenty of 8 to 5 that she would have done her volcanic cover of WHOLE LOTTA LOVE - it was after all issued on the UK release of SWET (ew) - but we were left wanting.
She sounded utterly fantastic, soulful and strong, and she gave us fierce renditions of REAL LOVE, YOUR CHILD (with a wonderfully angry sung denouncement of all fathers not dealing with "your respon-si-bil-it-y" which got an awesome response from the audience) and EVERYTHING. She misjudged how well the audience knew the lyrics to Chaka Khan's SWEET THING but there were no such problems with the mass choir on NOT GON' CRY and in particular on I'M GOIN' DOWN - I was belting it out!She ended the show with a scorching version of the NO MORE DRAMA - an ironic experience as Mary *always* brings the drama singing it, her powerful voice seemingly whipping her about the stage and leaving her (and us) breathless at it's conclusion. She encored with one of my all-time favorites JUST FINE as well as FAMILY AFFAIR and BE WITHOUT YOU.Even the usual Hell of getting away from the O2 hasn't dimmed the power that Miss Mary put out... All hail the Queen.