Mary J. Blige
Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
Sept. 15, 2012
“Empty Prayers” may not be one of Blige’s most memorable ballads, but the grit and passion with which she delivered it Saturday night made it one of those quintessentially Mary J. moments in a 90-minute set that often felt as much like the sharing part of a 12-step meeting as it did a concert. It was Blige’s second Charlotte appearance this month, falling closely on the heels of her performance at the Democratic National Convention. It also was the final night of her Liberation Tour with fellow tortured titan of '90s soul D’Angelo, whose relatively low-key half-hour set featured sometimes radically altered versions of his well-known songs like “Brown Sugar” and “(Untitled) How Does It Feel."
Both D’Angelo and Blige have talked publicly of their struggles with substance abuse, and on Saturday Blige reminded the Charlotte audience of her dark period after a simmering performance of the healing title song from her 2001 album No More Drama, which rides a sample of the melancholy piano theme to '70s soap opera The Young and the Restless. Blige almost died in the early '90s, she told the audience, and it was her fans who helped see her through it. “I love y’all,” she said. “Thank you for staying with me. Thank you for not leaving me. I need y’all.” Then she led the crowd in a singalong on her cover of Chaka Khan’s 1975 hit with Rufus, “Sweet Thing,” from Blige’s 1992 debut, What’s the 411?
For them, Blige performed her string of powerful, women-centric songs — “Good Woman Down,” “Not Gon' Cry,” “Love a Woman.” Earlier in the show, she ran through a panoply of hits, from early (“Real Love”) to recent (“Enough Crying”) to blockbuster (“Family Affair”), slipping in a swishing, swaying cover of the Gap Band’s “Outstanding,” with a little tease of scat singing at the end.
D’Angelo seemed relatively healthy, considering his extended periods missing in action, but there was a sadness to his look, a sense time, desire and hunger have passed him by. Hopefully, this is temporary. Hopefully, he’ll complete that long-promised new album and re-emerge, fully revitalized — or, as they say in 12-step meetings, at least happy, joyous and free.
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