BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
A few songs into her set, Mary J. Blige sat on a purple and black chair and proclaimed, “Ain’t nothin’ like the strength of a woman, baby!”
That sentiment – along with many other empowering statements made by the empress of the rousing testimonial – is not only a reference to Blige’s tour and new album, both christened “Strength of a Woman,” but a mantra that Blige fully believes.
At her Tuesday night show at Wolf Creek Amphitheater, Blige hit the stage with hips wiggling and waist twisting for “Love Yourself” and “The One.” The fervent, sold-out crowd leapt upward at the first notes from her five-piece band and stayed in that position throughout the show, fully immersed in Blige’s scorching presentation.
She zipped through the first 20 minutes of the concert with nods to the early-‘90s on “You Bring Me Joy” and “Real Love,” shimmying around the stage in sequined gold pants and a crop top that advertised a peek at abs that don’t normally belong to 46 year olds.
Throughout her 25-year-career, Blige’s conviction has always been of great appeal. She’s honest and real with her fans and they appreciate the transparency.
She’s made no secret of her split last year with husband Martin "Kendu" Isaacs, and used the pain of the breakup as fodder for her current album. She also is employing the stage as her pulpit – always a highlight of her shows.
“Fellas,” she said, not wanting to neglect the minority component of the crowd, “you can only have ONE queen. Not two queens, not three queens. Take care of your queen and she’ll take care of you.”
Preach, Mary, preach.
Before edging into the silky, finger-snapping soul that colors “Share My World” and the “Sukiyaki”-sampling “Everything,” Blige again addressed the crowd, this time to thank the fans “who never left me alone.”
Considering the brisk pace of the first part of the show, no one could quibble with Blige taking a quick clothes-change break and turning the spotlight on her band and three backup singers for a few minutes.
She returned in thigh-high black boots, ripped jean shorts and a floppy white hat for the open-arms ballad “My Life.”
Blige drained her lung power on the song, a feat she accomplished many times during the show. Her full, throaty voice sliced clear through the night air as she unleashed her potent pipes on her hit cover of Rose Royce’s “I’m Goin’ Down.”
“I’m not sorry,” she bellowed at the close of the song, waving a finger at the crowd, which provided an energetic assist on the chorus.
Blige acknowledged her new album with the obviously personal “Set Me Free” and, now about a week into her tour, debuted “Glow Up,” a rap-heavy middle finger to someone who did not treat her like a queen.
Watching Blige perform, it reminded of all of those reality TV music show contestants who always feel the need to punctuate their performances with annoying vocal runs. You know what? Leave the acrobatics to battle-tested pros such as Blige. She knows how to handle them.