Queen of R&B and King Nas returned to their hometown together for their joint tour. I thought the mega collaboration, who worked together numerous times, could be one of the hottest summer concerts…but one big concern was visible. Poor advance ticket sales. The duo was far from filling out 1,9000-seat Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn even 3 days prior to the concert date. Though they dropped down the ticket price 2 days before the show, there were still some seats left. But they were still leading artists of the hip-hop and R&B scene who influenced a lot of fellow musicians and fans worldwide even they were in their 40s. Mary was known for her passionate and dynamic live performance. Her voice was ultimately soulful on all TV performances. I was confident that both Mary and Nas would show superior entertainment at their homecoming concert.
Let me write my impression of the concert straight: what the fuck?
Nas was actually good. Without Nas, that concert would be collapsed. His hot, strong and stable vocal performance easily surpassed the majority of young up-and-coming rappers. Hip-hop is a difficult genre to keep the excitement throughout a full concert (not mini-concert) in a big arena because hip-hop had less variety of music types, vocal patterns, and movement compared with other genres. 46-year-old rapper maintained the same power on both his voice and actions during the show. His microphone was once accidentally off, but that accident ironically proved his vocal power. His many hit songs were enough to fire up the fans, and his unstopping movements on the entire stage fueled the heat up in the arena. And each his pose was impressive and stunning. Nas wasn’t a tall man, only 5’8″, but his stage presence was larger than his actual size. Nas sometimes showed up and supported Mary’s part (the concert was divided into each artist’s part, and Nas was first after they dueted with the first song), and Nas’ contribution helped to enhance Mary’s performance. It was similar to D’Angelo’s concert at Radio City Music Hall as a part of the Voodoo Tour in 2000 with Mos Def as a supporting act. Mos Def, who just released his first solo album “Black on Both Sides” in the previous year, won with his entertaining multi-talent against D’Angelo’s cracked performance that totally misunderstood his own music. Nas was rocking. Nas successfully proved that he was still king.
But Mary J. Blige. I honestly didn’t expect I would use “poor” to describe her concert but I had to.
The first set was ok (Mary’s concert consisted of 3 sets divided by dress changes). As an R&B star rich with hit songs, Mary J. Blige chose a popular hit as the first song already, “I Can Love You” from Share My World. Mary even combined two hot club bangas on the second, “The One” from Stronger With Each Tear and “Enough Cryin'” from The Breakthrough. The gutsy start worked out well to put the audience into crazy chaos. Mary’s fans sang loud with her from the beginning. If Mary did the basic things she had to do, the whole concert would be ok. What did make the concert wrong?
1. Mary J. Blige didn’t sing the most of the second set.
The nightmare started on the second set when Mary J Blige appeared again after her costume change with a classy dress. She kept letting her fans sing the most part of each song, but Mary herself didn’t sing. She probably sang less than 5 phrases per song during the second set. The typical routine was singing one or two words then gave up her microphone to her fans. She acted like “I’m excited!”, “let me hear your voice!” without a word while waving her hand with a microphone but too excessive. Entire the second set! That was Mary J. Blige’s concert, not her fans’ big karaoke party at an arena. No matter Mary’s fans were singing loud, she still had to sing the majority of each song as a singer. She had to take the lead, not her fans. Fans spent money on Mary J. Blige’s concert to hear her voice with her songs. Mary sang on the first and third sets while fans were singing, I couldn’t understand the reason she didn’t sing on the second set. Mary J. Blige seemed like completely forgetting the most important principle of a concert or her duty as a singer. It was sad for me to keep praying “probably Mary will sing next song”.
That created big boredom above the 2nd floor and caused the massive flow of fans leaving in the middle of the show. People around me also left during the second set. The guy next to me spit the word upon leaving “she ain’t singing!”. Right, the majority of singing fans were on the 1st floor. Mary was blind above the 1st floor but should acknowledge her fans in the upper levels, too. Mary called her fans that they were her family during her talk closer to the end of the second set. Ironically, many of Mary’s “family” had already left her show.
2. Dress changes.
Mary J. Blige changed her dress twice during the show. Each was long especially the second time. If her dancers or band performed some entertainment that would maintain the excitement during the queen’s dressing time, that would be fine…but there was nothing like that. The band just repeated playing the plain instrumental music during the second dress change. No dance performance even Mary had dancers. That was critical because many fans had already been bored with Mary’s concert. Additional fans left during the second dress change. Musicians should think about the entertainment to keep the heat during the dress change.
Mary finally showed her emotional voice nobody could imitate on the third set including “Share My World” and “No More Drama” (I would be really upset if Mary didn’t sing this song most of the part)…but it was too late. I could enjoy only 6 songs that her soulful voice directly came to my emotion. When the concert finished with “Family Affair”, the majority of remaining fans had no desire to request an encore. They left quickly without ovation.
Mary J. Blige wasted a lot of her fortunes that night. Her talent, her voice, the gorgeous setlist filled with only her hit songs, her homecoming concert, and her fans. Her mistakes were avoidable, especially singing because that was her profession. I didn’t think Mary was losing her voice. If she was, her vocal performance wouldn’t be superior on the third set. The first set was fine, too. She still had an amazing vocal technique. It’s also difficult to think that she kept forgetting the lyrics during the second set. If Mary normally sang throughout the show, she could easily excite the entire audience…and that was what she had to do as a professional musician.
It was obvious that Mary was out of focus on that night. Her poor performance gave me a suspicion that something might be going on with her. But a show had to go on once started no matter what situation she was. Musicians have to contribute 100% on their stage despite ticket sales, but Mary gave only 40%. She conserved her energy for unknown reasons, but the price was pretty big.
MARY J. BLIGE
OVERALL POINTS: 52/100
- Performance: ★
- Excitement/Fire: ★
- Vocal: ★★
- Instrumental: ★★★+1/2
- Sounds: ★★★★★
- Song orders: ★★★★★
- Stage setting+lighting: ★★★★
- Better than recordings: ★
- Chemistry with the audience: ★
OVERALL POINTS: 87/100
- Performance: ★★★★
- Excitement/Fire: ★★★★
- Vocal: ★★★★+1/2
- Instrumental: ★★★★
- Sounds: ★★★★★
- Song orders: ★★★★★
- Stage setting+lighting: ★★★★
- Better than recordings: ★★★★+1/2
- Chemistry with the audience: ★★★★+1/4