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Essence Music Festival comes to smooth end

July 4, 2011

Essence of Essence: Unlike the previous nights' closers Usher and Kanye West, who had incorporated elaborate special effects and choreography into their shows, Mary J. Blige simply relied upon her powerful, pain-wracked voice, a steely repertoire and killer earrings (4-inch-by-4-inch squares with silvery sparkles) to tell her story. The muscular yet polished 80-minute show was her first as a festival-closer at Essence and she more than met the challenge. Opening with up-tempo dance tunes It Ain't Over Till It's Over and The One, Blige stalked the stage wearing a black fringed top, black hot pants and black boots, all which contrasted with her deep blonde mane. Songs from all phases of her 20-year career flowed into one another, creating a collective tale of love gone wrong, sexual freedom and frustration, personal struggle and empowerment. She followed a sensuous I Am, from 2009's Stronger With Each Tear album, with a shout-out to Saturday performer Chaka Khan, via Sweet Thing. A visceral and cathartic No More Drama seemed to connect with every woman in the Super Dome and left a wrung-out Blige on her knees and the crowd on its feet. Blige, whose energy and spirit never dipped, then sent everyone home in a party mood by closing with Just Fine, Family Affair and Be Without You.

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