Blige connects with audience in powerful concert

October 16, 2010

Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer

Mary J. Blige dubbed her latest tour the "Music Saved My Life" tour, and Friday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, she paid tribute to an artist who she said saved her own life.
"If this woman did not make 'Caught Up in the Rapture,' I wouldn't be here right now," said Blige, midway through her concert before a nearly sold-out Fox. "Make some noise for Anita Baker, sitting in the front row!"
Baker, who was indeed in the front row, stepped to the foot of the stage and embraced Blige. Blige said without Baker's music she wouldn't have a career and she'd be a "nobody." "Her music saved my life," Blige said, "how about that?"
It was Blige's pay it forward moment, since for most of the concert, she was taking on the crowd's frustrations, fears and insecurities and letting them know it's OK. Though she's a platinum-selling recording artist and one of the world's leading R&B superstars, there's a relatability to Blige that makes her seem like an everywoman. Her connection with her audience is profound, and the mostly female crowd at the Fox Friday welcomed her as one of their own during her powerful 1-hour, 40-minute performance.
Blige, backed by a six-piece band and three backup singers, performed all or part of more than 30 songs, loosely divided up between party jams and empowerment anthems. The stage was simple and elegant, with Blige working the majority of the stage by herself while her band performed on a series of risers behind her. She danced up a storm when appropriate and at other times emoted her way through commanding renditions of songs like "Take Me As I Am," which was performed in a sparse, stripped-down style. The format suited her well, and she'd be wise to adapt it to a larger part of her future shows.
When Blige - who sang live the entire concert, it should be noted - held her microphone out to the crowd for songs like "I'm Going Down," they sang the words right back to her. Meanwhile, hits like "No More Drama," "Family Affair" and "Be Without You" were delivered with an energy that was matched by the crowd's response. "Mary J. Blige fans are in the building tonight!" Blige said, and they were treated to a stellar evening from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.
Suddenly back R&B singer El Debarge warmed up the crowd before Blige and showed, although he's been absent for years, he's hardly lost a step. His voice is as silky smooth as ever and he works the stage with ease, while songs like "Stay With Me" have earned him credit with the hip-hop generation (it was sampled in the Notorious B.I.G.'s "One More Chance"). Debarge seemed low on the list of performers likely to make a comeback, but his return has proven to be a welcome surprise.

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