Live Review: Mary J. Blige (Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham)

This piece was originally published on So So Gay on 4 July 2015.

Fast approaching 25 years since debut album What’s the 411? was released, and Mary J. Blige shows no sign of slowing down. Her most recent (and 13th!) album, The London Sessions, found her working with a host of young British talents on a refreshing and sparkling collection of songs. Bringing some of these tracks, along with a healthy clutch of back-catalogue highlights, to Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena last night, Blige once again showed her interest in our own homegrown talent as Sinead Harnett was her choice for supporting act. She may have only been on stage for a short time, but the Londoner filled the space with her stunning voice, charming personality, and a small but impressive collection of tracks. With a little bit of luck, Harnett definitely has all the right ingredients to become one of the UK’s next big acts.

A short 30 minutes later, and the main event took to the stage. Mary J. Blige’s 90 minute set was certainly unrelenting with little time given over to idle chatter. The first half was a little more slow jam heavy and called on more of her earlier material, while the second half was slightly disjointed due to a mix of the ‘Classic Mary’ and ‘London Sessions Mary’ sounds. Nevertheless, Blige brought a verve and enthusiasm to each and every track she performed, and the audience loved every second.

As with any talented vocalist, Mary’s live show was about putting her singing at the centre rather than relying on flashy sets and exhausting choreography. Even so, the 44-year-old bounced and shimmied across the stage throughout the set, keeping things moving even in the slower moments. Unquestionably the evening’s highlight, however, was a blistering and powerhouse performance of 2001 single ‘No More Drama’, which ended (ironically) with Blige dramatically collapsed on stage. It also slightly eclipsed the following numbers that closed the show, including the massive ‘Family Affair’ which was the show’s closing track.

What the New Yorker may lack in certified bangers, she more than makes up for with passion and vocal chops. As Blige stated at one point during the show, she doesn’t ‘have any bombs or effects’, it’s just her – and that voice. Her vocal prowess is undeniable and that’s the real draw for any Mary J. Blige performance. Full of raw emotion and brought to life with a natural irrepressible talent, Mary J. Blige is one of modern R&B’s greatest talents that more of us should be appreciating.


Setlist:

Mary-J-Blige-2‘Just Fine’

‘The One’

‘You Bring Me Joy’

‘Love is All We Need’

‘Real Love’

‘Be Happy’

‘Love No Limit’

‘Enough Cryin”

‘I Can Love You’

‘Don’t Mind’

‘Share My World’

‘Seven Days’

‘Your Child’

‘Take Me As I Am’

‘Good Woman Down’

‘My Life’

‘Doubt’

‘Therapy’

‘Nobody But You’

‘My Loving’

‘F For You’

‘I’m Goin’ Down’

‘Not Gon’ Cry’

‘No More Drama’

‘One’

‘Be Without You’

‘Family Affair’

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