Two days after the release of her latest album "My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1)" (Nov. 23), Mary J. Blige invoked the emotional depth of its 1994 companion "My Life" at NYC's Terminal 5, performing her sophomore album in its entirety with the addition of several cuts from her more contemporary catalogue.
Playing to a sold-out crowd, the Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul emerged to a room full of patrons chanting her name. After Sean " Diddy" Combs' infamous intro from "My Life" echoed through the system, MJB joined her touring band, Chemistry, to the bounce of "Mary Jane (All Night Long)," rocking her signature dark sunglasses, cropped blonde hair, and a body-hugging black leather jacket and pants.
"New York, can I bring you some joy?" she posed the audience, segueing into the vamping "You Bring Me Joy." The show was a homecoming of sorts for Blige, who had performed a near-identical concert last Thursday (Nov. 17) at L.A.'s Club Nokia, bringing out Nas for their recent duet "Feel Inside." The seasoned songstress held her own during the show, commanding the stage like a veteran without enlisting any guests. "New York City, it's so good to be home to give 'My Life' as an entire experience. I think you're ready to do this."
R&B/Hip-Hop Album No. 1, "My Life," largely revered as her best release, still proved to have legs through the performance, as her well-oiled backing group nailed each arrangement. Clutching a purple LED microphone stand, Blige channeled the pain she publicly suffered while recording the dark album, inviting attendees to carry the weight of her vocals during "I'm Goin' Down."
"There are songs on that 'My Life' album that will break you down, to the point where you'll have to sing about it," reflected Mary, donning a wide-rimmed fedora and hitting choreographed cues as two backup dancers joined her for "Be With You." Tributing singers who came before her, Blige stretched the ending to the song to mimic Anita Baker's classic scat style and Teena Marie's punctuated delivery. The show took a more serious turn as she segued into "Mary's Joint," pausing at the end of the gritty "I Love You" to remember her late friend, Heavy D.
Nearing the end of the album, Blige showed no signs of wear. The smiling singer completed the album cycle with a popping performance of R&B/Hip-Hop top 10, "Be Happy." Blige thanked the crowd for supporting her music throughout the years and taking a chance on an aspiring singer from the slums. "I hope you like it like you did in 1994," she said before exiting the stage before her first encore.
Re-emerging to Diddy's intro to "My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1)," Mary fast-forwarded to the present with shinier fare. Blige, who had recently performed "Mr. Wrong" at the American Music Awards (Nov. 20), revived the glistening cut during the set, following with the powerful "25/8." The contrast between both "My Life" albums was noticeable only through her showmanship and voice control -- two elements that clearly have bettered with time.
"Thank you so much for the love and support of the 'My Life' album and the second one," said Blige. She returned to the spotlight to close the show with "Family Affair," dancing across the stage as the audience cheered her on. "I'm looking forward to performing 'My Life II' one day in its entirety, too," the once troubled singer said, leaving her past where it belongs.