“LA!” “NEW YORK!” “NEW YORK!” “LA!” Quite how far Mary J Blige travelled on her 1997-’98 ‘world’ tour isn’t revealed by the shout-outs to the audience on this live album. Still, here’s our chance to also “go somewhere special”. Right up to “the next level”, inevitably. Crikey, will we need oxygen?
No, though considerable reserves of tolerance could prove handy. There are the overly honeyed ballads (‘Sweet Thing’, ‘You Gotta Believe’) to slurp through. Plus the curse of Mr Big Mouth MC encouraging the crowd to “Make some noooise!” and “Dooo that shit!”
Surmount these obstacles, however, and you’re treated to ample evidence that Blige still deserves her Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul crown. It’s a lot of words to balance on a single head, admittedly, but there’s no shifting them as she roars through ‘Real Love’ and ‘Reminisce’, then dispatches ‘Share My World’ and a cover of Dorothy Moore’s ‘Misty Blue’ with consummate sultry class.
Her unparalleled knack for switching from timeless sentiments of lurve to the braggadocio of the modern urban US lifestyle (OK, to swearing liberally) makes for a swaggering, pointed performance the likes of Mariah Carey couldn’t muster for fear of straying too far from the middle of a stultifyingly bland road.
So, while this has stop-gap money-spinner written all over it – being no match for any of her studio LPs – at least it suggests catching Mary J Blige on tour has more going for it than you might previously have believed. In the disaster-ridden realm of the live album, that’s about as good as it gets.