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In concert: Mary J. Blige at Jiffy Lube Live

mary j bligeMary J. Blige delivered a strong performance, but not many witnessed it. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Aaron Leitko

Mary J. Blige was in town last year to celebrate President Obama's inauguration. The New York-bred R&B singer scaled the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and summed up an afternoon's worth of hopey-changey sentiments with a single-song set - a soulful take on the gospel hymn "Lean On Me."

Thursday night, Blige's task wasn't as momentous. All she needed to do was provide a sense of closure for Jiffy Lube Live's 2010 concert season. Unfortunately, it was an under attended performance, a smallish audience barely managing to crowd the arena's lower level of seating.

Accompanied by a seven-piece band, the singer, now 39, delivered a nearly two-hour set of heavy, uplifting R&B. There were no guest spots or walk-ons to share the spotlight - just Blige alone, wearing a pair of stiletto-heeled boots, teetering across a stage set that looked like a space-age makeup counter.

The show was roughly split into two acts -- bangers and bawlers. Rhythm heavy hits from across her catalog, like "The One," from her 2009 album "Stronger With Each Tear," and "You Bring Me Joy," from 1994's "My Life," got about one verse apiece before the band moved on to another, equally catchy hit. If you were a teenager in the mid-90s, high school dances have likely burned these singles into your memory.

mary j blige

While the dance tunes were truncated, the singer poured herself into the set's slow and soulful material, Marvin Gaye-inspired tear-jerkers like "Not Gon' Cry" and "I Never Wanna Live Without You." Gritty and bluesy, Blige's voice is irrepressible--even the most rigid programming of modern, studio-driven, R&B has never been able to quash its humanity.

As the tempos slowed Blige gradually burnished the intimacy level, culminating in an entirely acoustic performance of "Take Me As I Am," from 2005's "The Breakthrough." By the end of the song, the singer had collapsed on the lid of the piano, having brought herself to tears. But she was quickly revived, doing squat jumps (on heels, no less) throughout "No Drama." Too bad there weren't more on hand to witness it.

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By Aaron Leitko  | October 8, 2010; 4:50 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Mary J. Blige  
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Next: Coda: Mary J. Blige pumps us up; Gyptian lets us down; Katie Couric makes us blush

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