Mary J. Blige hits all the emotions at Chicago Theatre

October 18, 2010
Mary J. Blige's performance at a crowded Chicago Theatre on Sunday could have been represented by the dual comedy and tragedy masks often used to symbolize theater.

In the early going, Blige, decked out head-to-toe in black and sporting knee-length, stiletto-heeled boots, demonstrated an array of dance moves as her nine-piece band breezed through sunnier, club-friendly fare like "You Bring Me Joy." But near the midpoint of the almost two-hour set, Blige reemerged in a slightly more revealing outfit (a white tank top and a bowler hat that made it appear as though she were auditioning for a role in Alex's gang in "A Clockwork Orange") for a host of emotionally-wrenching, high drama songs that even further exposed the R&B/soul belter.

On "Your Child," the singer briefly channeled a fiery gospel preacher, stomping her feet and shaking her fist at the heavens as she unloaded on absentee parents. More frequently, however, Blige directed her words inward. The 39-year-old delivered a cathartic, bluesy "Not Gon' Cry," repeatedly groaning and growling the track's title as if she were trying to convince herself of the validity of her own words. Indeed, the singer's pain became so overwhelming by song's close that she could emit little more than tortured, wordless moans. "Take Me As I Am," performed here with only piano, acoustic guitar and the syncopated hand rhythms drummer/percussionist (and Chicago-native) Rex Hardy tapped out on his perch, found Blige pointing out her perceived flaws ("Might have a little fat on my arms") as a means of expressing the concert's larger message about self-acceptance.

Blige spent the remainder of the evening in full-on celebration mode, working in snippets of past hits ("Real Love," "You Remind Me"), leading audience singalongs (Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing" and her own "No More Drama") and popping-and-locking aside a pair of backup dancers on robotic, electro-heavy bumpers like "The One" and a fluttering "Work That." But while the delivery might have differed, the singer's message remained consistent. "Don't worry about who's sayin' what," she instructed on the latter. "Work what you got."


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