Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Live Notes: Heart of the City

Mary J. Blige & Jay-Z
TD Banknorth Garden
Boston, MA
Thursday, April 3, 2008

In light of the spike of commemorations surrounding the late Dr. King, the magnitude of this tour took on a greater scope. Not only are Mary & Jay two of the most bankable stars in hip-hop, but you can easily say all of entertainment. That hip-hop spawned them makes their adaptation of the American Dream even more compelling. I originally saw the dates scheduled and couldn't believe it. Easily these stars could have toured on their own with supporting acts and done just as well. Putting egos aside, they instantly created one of the biggest tours in hip-hop's history and helped further black music's reach with another hallmark achievement.

The diversity of the crowd was testament to the achievement. Honestly, the audience seemed perfectly American: half Caucasian, half not. Considering that we are in a recession, the fact that the place was filled to the rafters, whose seats cost $100 after the Ticketmaster charge was included, spoke to how celebrated these two artists have become. It was fitting that they started with "Can't Knock The Hustle", a hip-hop anthem that helped cement both of their reputations.

Mary has fully embraced her role as a diva and it suits her fine. For most of the evening her eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, perfectly framed by her signature blond hair. Jay left Mary after "Hustle" and she quickly bounced through a medley of her old favorites. Since it was a hip-hop celebration she began with her part of "You're All I Need", her duet with Method Man. Jay popped up for a bit of "Real Love", but Mary seemed to get her fire towards the end of the medley, when she took her time with some of her slower romantic fare. When she did her mini Anita Baker lesson on "Love No Limit", you felt a change in her force.

She then transitioned into items from her newest offering "Growing Pains". You could tell she was proud of her efforts and she should be. It was evident that most of the crowd agreed with her. This is the point where the women forgot where they were and swayed and serenaded in the aisles as if they were in their showers. Mary barged through "Feels Like A Woman" which eventually lead to "Stay Down" and church was officially in session. After an extended interlude, Mary re-emerged and preached her sermon in the form of "No More Drama". She paced back and forth with the ferocity of a televangelist, and pretty much everyone was converted. One member of my party described it as "hypnotic". I couldn't disagree.

She continued through the ballads ("Not 'Gon Cry", "Your Child", and a group sing-along of "I'm Going Down") and used the momentum to finish with more of her upbeat tracks. After "Family Affair", the DJ put on "Flashing Lights" and Mary and her two dancers did the poses that got the crowd in a frenzy for "Work That". By "Be Without You", even the hard-nosed guys mostly there for Jay were standing in appreciation.

After a transition video where they both fawned over the other, it was Jay's turn. Just like Mary, he seems really proud of his latest work. He started his set with items from "American Gangster", his inspiration from the film. He then tumbled into his set, which was a madcap mash of his hits. There was a section when he seemed the most alive and it was also concurrent with when the live band was most on display. The gospel chop drummer breathed new life into "Show Me What You Got" and when the guitars hit on "99 Problems", it seemed as though they were highlighting them one by one. Predictably, Mary came out to assist on "Song Cry" and did well.

After that Jay went into an extended run of his 90s hits that mostly lacked pizazz. Yet as unenthused as he seemed at times, he still had amazing crowd connection. My crew looked like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the midst of the Garden, the sole objectors to raising our diamonds in the sky. But the night was still enjoyable.

And that was it. After "Encore", they finished with "Heart of the City" which included a reggae drop that let Mary prove she can still move with the best of them. And that was it. The lights came on and no one complained, but for some reason that was okay. The diva and the established hustler had done their deed and moved on to the next date. And it's cool that they owe us nothing more. Somehow for most of the crowd, this was the event to brag about for a while and its really cool that such a diverse crowd has such value of this type of event. I want Jay to do more inspired sets with the bands and I secretly hope that Mary goes to her jazz roots and tours smaller venues. But if they keep doing Heart of the City, I'll go with my kids one day when they are of age.