Twenty-five years ago, a goofy white kid, a freshman at Wabash College (me) walked into a Target store in Crawfordsville, Indiana and took a look at the cover of Mary J Blige’s now-iconic What’s the 411? debut album and thought, “THAT looks interesting!” instantly buying it and listening to it on repeat ever since.
In fact, the album was more than interesting. It was a revelation. Other generations had Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner as a soulful voice that crossed R&B and pop and rock boundaries to express a deep-seated pain over an intolerant and misogynistic world. My generation has Blige. She was to hip hop what Kurt Cobain was to rock, a disaffected iconoclast gleefully turning Top 40 convention on its collective ear.
Two and a half decades later, I finally had the opportunity to see Blige live – at the Michigan Lottery/Freedom Hill amphitheater. (By the way, this is a marvelous venue, with nary a poor sight line and a fantastic array of amenities.)
Blige put on a killer show. As you can imagine, she “leaves everything on the field,” as sports pundits are prone to say. The show highlighted all of the hits, from her debut album through equally landmark LPs My Life and Share My World, on to her latest offering Strength of a Woman, also the title of this tour.
The set design was minimal, with some fun digital projections recounting the looks and styles of her storied career, and her remarkably tight backing band knew just when to get out of the way of her freight train of a voice.
If there was a theme to the evening, it was that women survive and thrive despite the pain and duresss of a society stacked against them. Blige has been famously unlucky in love, and she isn’t afraid to throw shade at any man in the audience who views women as a disposable commodity. One of her fieriest moments was recent album cut “Special Place in Hell,” dedicated to all the swaggering, self-absorbed cowboys out there. And, unsurprisingly, classic feminist anthems like “Not Gon’ Cry,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” and “My Life” were delivered with a fiery urgency that kept them as fresh and timely as the day they were recorded.
Blige’s opening act, Destiny’s Child alum LeToya Luckett, carried a similar thene through her set list. While Luckett lacked the visceral authenticity of the show’s headliner, she landed her musical critique of a society that fails to honor its women. As she observed, “Don’t be afraid to give a compliment…must be something insecure about you if you can’t.”
Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital).
In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.
My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language