Blige, Mary J. : Manchester MEN Arena

Fellow divas, acolytes and imitators take heed: this is how you do it...

As the number of her peers shrinks, Mary J Blige continues

to stand out amongst the morass of identikit R&B warblers.

Indeed, against all odds, the past decade has seen Blige come

back off the ropes from drugs, scraps, illness and crippling

self-loathing to join the true few in earning diva status.

All of which is to forget what got her here in the first place - Blige's

voice is one for all time. Her high-production-values show looks

like a 90-minute Gap advert, feels much more intimate than the

average stadium outing and when the right balance of R&B, gospel

and pop is struck it also feels near timeless.

One of those moments ('All Night Long') comes soon after she takes the stage

in her 'street Mary' persona. From this frantic

step aerobics-type pace Blige loses momentum in

her conversion to 'MOR Mary' until

'chart eating laser-sighted pop goddess Mary' swoops in for

the all conquering finale - a Darth Vader Imperial march

style-reworking of last year's 'No More Drama'. Fellow divas,

acolytes and imitators take heed: this is how you do it.

Imran Ahmed

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