Mary J. Blige
Nov. 11, 2011
Fox Theater, Oakland
Better than: Playing the My Life recording through a haze of tears.
The trend of artists presenting whole albums in the live setting continues to proliferate, and the format can have its limitations. But Mary J. Blige's 1994 sophomore album My Life is a natural choice, because it's packed with hits and stands as a cohesive whole project.
Blige took several moments on Friday to reflect on what the album means both to her and her listeners, casting it as a tool to navigate the trials and tribulations of heartache and depression. "I just can't explain the impact," she said. "The things that you'll never know you pulled me out of ..." She expressed sincere gratitude to her audience. "If it wasn't for you, I'd still be living in the projects. I'd still have nothing. You gave me everything!"The crowd knew a majority of the words to the songs, not just the big singles like "Be Happy," "You Bring Me Joy," "I Love You," and the title track. They had the longest opportunity to showcase an impressive rendition of her original-eclipsing cover of Rose Royce's "I'm Goin' Down." Although we appreciated the display from the audience, we were a little disappointed that Blige let the audience sing almost all of this one. She made up for it at the end with vocal chord-defying ad libs, which were full-bodied and pitch-perfect. Blige's control over her instrument is amazing. Lights were used simply but effectively, with the backdrop and even the microphone stand illuminated in flattering and alternating colors. She didn't need pyrotechnics, projections, choreography, or costume changes, though she did adopt a low-long hat to nice effect at one point. She brought her voice in top shape, and that was more than enough. Blige had a few great surprises left as an encore, previewing the new songs "25/8" and "Mr. Wrong" from My Life II ... The Journey Continues, which comes out on Nov. 21. She ended appropriately on the "no more drama" note of "Family Affair," her 2001 collaboration with Dr. Dre, and the line, "We don't need no haters!" Critic's Notebook Personal bias: I've had the pleasure of interviewing the artist and was dazzled by her professionalism and genuine warmth, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to see her live for the first time. Random detail: We couldn't help but notice the warm smile on Blige's husband's face as he watched the show. By the way: Photographer Tony Ng has more lovely images from the performance on the KMEL site.