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Concert review: Atlanta gets 'holiday loving' from Maxwell, Mary J. Blige

BY RYON HORNE/AJC Video Producer

It was so considerate for The King and Queen of Hearts Tour with Maxwell and Mary J. Blige to start promptly at 7 p.m. Friday -- mainly because there were mostly grown folks in the audience, and with two careers packing the catalogue hit list that they have, there was a lot to cover in three and half hours.

With her recent divorce filing from husband Kindu Isaacs, Mary J. Blige did not shy away from the news as headlines of the couple’s troubles showed on the big screen above the stage. But she assured the crowd immediately that things were OK by starting her set with the hit “Just Fine.”

Having lived her life in the spotlight for well over 20 years, Blige list of songs seem to work as therapy on stage, as she performed all of her hits in just under 90 minutes.

As soon as she dove into a five-song medley with hits such as “You Bring Me Joy,” “Love is All We Need,” and “Love No Limit,” the party lit up Philips Arena as the crowd literally danced in the aisles. Hearing Blige strain her voice to hit certain notes was a joy because that’s when you know she’s really singing her heart out. And at times, she simply raised her hands in the air, mid-verse, and fans took over the song on cue, especially for “Real Love.”

Blige’s female-fan base is no secret, but she catered to the men for a brief moment. “Fellas I love you too, but I am a woman. I speak to the women,” she said, as she slowed the party down.

“As you know, there's a lot going on right now. I'm going through some heavy s***,” she said, stopping herself right before going into her new single, “The Thick of It.”

You could hear the power, experience and class exude from Blige in her Grammy-nominated hits “No More Drama” and “No More Tears.” There were so many moments where Blige could have ended her show, but she ended on a high-energy dance number -- “Dance For Me.”

After Blige left the stage, you could have called it a night -- money well spent, thanks for the show. But then there was Maxwell.

No woman was leaving her spot in the arena as he took the stage.

Kicking his set off with a song from the past, “Till the Cops Come Knocking,” and a one from his new album, “Hostage,” Maxwell moved across the stage like water in his three-piece suit, no doubt prompting the the men in the audience to hold their ladies a little tighter. With a catalog as long as Blige’s, Maxwell let the music and his voice take control of the crowd with ease. In between songs, the crooner sang/talked to the crowd about his Thanksgiving holiday.

Giving props to Blige, Maxwell told the crowd, “This is the after-party. The nine months from now, the make-sure-you-on-point night.”

If you’re only familiar with the singer’s falsetto voice and his love-making ballads, you’d be surprised by the energy of his show, especially evident with songs such as “Cold” and “Bad Habits.”

But when he slowed everything down to sing “This Woman’s Worth,” eyes in the crowd swelled with tears as he paid tribute to Prince, Muhammad Ali and protesters of the Black Lives Matter movement, making the moment a highlight of the show.

Maxwell’s voice was sometimes drowned out by the music; however he quickly recovered when hitting the high notes, making it even more impressive that his voice strong was enough for 90 minutes of singing in his falsetto register.

Then he reminded fans that he’s been doing this for 20 years on the song “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” as images of the singer from 1996, with the big hair and the trippy clothes, appeared behind him on the screen above the stage.

After transitioning from his hit “Fortunate” to Prince’s “Adore,” Maxwell addressed the crowd: “I hope you feel like making love after the show. That holiday loving.”

With one half of the show performed by Blige -- reaching the hearts and souls of the women in the crowd -- and the other half with Maxwell giving the women that chill down their backs, it’s safe to say that “holiday loving” was in full effect in Atlanta.

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