The Tour

I want to make sure each and every one of you gives it up for the queen of hip-hop and soul! Miss Mary J. Bliiige!" hollers an announcer at the onset of Blige's first live album, The Tour. Then, inexplicably, we hear high-drama helicopter noises. Oh, why not — a show from Ms. Blige is an event. The Tour, recorded at two locales along Blige's 1997-98 Share My World extravaganza, deftly captures the energy and exuberance of her concerts. Blige is a commanding, self-assured performer, and she plays her audience like a damn fiddle. "I'm gettin' ready to take y'all on the regular routine journey," she announces. "We gonna go from 'What's the 411' to 'My Life,' then we gonna end up right here in 'Mary's World.' Can we do that tonight, L.A.?!" [Sound of crowd losing its mind]

Indeed, Blige smoothly delivers all the hits, from "Sweet Thing" (sublime interplay between Blige and her excellent backup singers on that one) to a sultry, head-bobbing "Mary Jane (All Night Long)" to the soaring, joyous "Thank You Lord" — a generous twenty-three songs in all. Blige throws in a few covers for good measure, Aretha Franklin's classic "Day Dreaming" and Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue." She contemporizes "Day Dreaming" by loosening up the vocals and adding a little muscle to the melody; "Misty Blue," the album's get-out-the-hankies closer, is a testament to the girl from Yonkers' powerful pipes. At the end of the song, Blige free-forms a little with the lyrics. "I want to thank each and every one of you for supporting me," she sings feelingly. "'Cause I could not have done it without you, and I'd be misty blue if I didn't have your love." No, Ms. Blige, thank you.

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