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Oh Mary

By Vincent Williams | Posted 8/16/2000

Mary J. Blige, Jagged Edge, Avant

Baltimore Arena, Aug. 11


There's nothing like getting your money's worth. It's likely that most of those who forked over their hard-earned green to gain entry into the Baltimore Arena on Aug. 11 were there to see headliner Mary J. Blige, whose voice has rarely lived up to her diva rep, at least on recordings. But not only did Blige earn every dollar, her opening acts Avant and Jagged Edge added value too.

Avant made a strong first impression with some help from an MC in a matching outfit--standard wife-beater T (to show off the tattoos), powder-blue leather pants, and a skull cap--and four very limber female dancers. But the sound was so bad that it was hard to tell what he was singing or what the rapper was rapping about. Avant did have great stage presence, though, and managed to keep the crowd excited with his hit "Uh, Uh, Uh."

Jagged Edge put on an even bigger show, appearing out of a huge heart-adorned silver box, though the sound didn't improve a bit. Luckily, singers Brian, Brandon, Richard, and Kyle overcame the sound system's shortcomings with their strong voices as they ran through hits from their self-titled debut and the current J.E. Heartbreak. More than a couple of young ladies in the audience were trembling and crying, and for a minute it looked as though the group might steal the show from the headliner. When they stopped their hit "Let's Get Married" so that a woman could come onstage and propose to her boyfriend (who accepted), it was absolute bedlam.

Jagged Edge's reign over the arena crowd was sweet, but short. After a short cartoon featuring superhero Mary J. Blige fighting drug dealers, pedophiles, and bank robbers (whatever all that was supposed to mean), the lights came up and Blige stood onstage, ready to win back the audience.

Between sets, someone miraculously fixed the sound, and that was a plus. Blige sounded better than she's ever sounded before. Maybe the ol' girl has been doing tae-bo or something, but she blew, sounding better than on her last two albums. She sang strong nonstop for 45 minutes, did a quick change, and came back for another hour. It was like hearing her songs for the first time.

But Blige's voice was just the icing on the cake. People love her because they relate to her, and that was the real point of the concert. Whether singing "I'm Not Gonna Cry" (from Waiting to Exhale) and talking about her own abusive relationship, laughing and holding her microphone toward the crowd (which drowned her out) during "I'm Going Down," or movingly dedicating "You Are My Everything" to everyone for the finale, Blige showed she is regular folk. By the end, she'd shown why the tour is called "The Mary Show."

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