Mary J. Blige gets stronger with each song at Essence fest

July 5, 2010
She needed no introduction and didn't get one – such was Mary J. Blige's stature at the Essence Music Festival on Sunday. From the moment she strode onstage seemingly out of nowhere she exuded the star power befitting a nine-time Grammy winner.

Even before her voice kicked in, her outfit commanded attention: a glittering silver-and-gold jacket over a black top; square silver earrings and belt; silver and gold sparkles adorning black tights; and trademark silver-encrusted black sunglasses worn beneath a dyed blonde mane.

As she worked her way through up-tempo material such as The One, I Love You and the new I Feel Good, giant disco balls spun and her native Manhattan's skyline flashed on the giant screen behind her. Blige took the audience "back to the old-school school"' with 1992's Love No Limit, then slowed the pace by letting her guitarist weave a beautiful flamenco-style instrumental.

That led into the ballad We Got Hood Love, which featured a surprise appearance by Trey Songz, who sang on the record and who had opened the evening with his own main-stage set. Blige then cranked it back up with a titanic version of I Am as new New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and wife Cheryl grooved up front.

After leading a sing-along on the Rose Royce soul classic I'm Going Down, Blige launched into the emotional centerpiece of the night, a cathartic, defiant rendering of No More Drama. The climax found her squatting and beseeching the crowd to rise up with the exhortation: "You don't have to worry about being perfect – whoever you are is the flyest thing God sent this earth. There is only one you.''

Drenched with sweat from delivering her gospel, Blige somehow rallied for the good-timing Good Love, which featured a surprise appearance and brief rap by T.I., with whom she recorded the song. Blige then ended the nearly 90-minute set with "something for the lovers in the house tonight,'' a raucous Be With You Tonight.

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