tour spotlight By Andy Argyrakis hit the road Mary J. Blige “Music sAved My life” tour chicAgo theAtre/chicAgo, il P h o to s b y A nd y A rg y ra k is . After a decade and a half leading the charge as the “queen of hip-hop soul,” crossover favorite Mary J. Blige had no trouble landing a sold-out show at the spacious Chicago Theatre. However, the legendary hall was transformed into a throbbing dance club as the charismatic singer/ songwriter took the stage backed by a six piece band, three background singers and two dancers for no less than 30 tunes (albeit some abridged) across nearly two smoldering hours. Following a regal build-up of the throbbing instrumental “Music Saved My Life” (also the tour’s namesake, which Blige named because there were so many times “God used a song” throughout her journey), she exploded with “MJB Da MVP,” a genuine battle cry from a girl who grew up in the projects but has since graduated to superstar status. And as she unfurled hit after hit, it was clear Blige’s celebrity wasn’t by accident, but due to her mighty vocals, overflowing charm and uncanny ability to relate her spiritually-inspired songwriting style toward any listener’s personal situation. “Enough Cryin” urged the broken to pick up the pieces and start again, “You Bring Me Joy” celebrated everything going right in a relationship, while “Be Happy” spoke of independence following abuse. Though her themes tended to run together at times, Blige varied the arrangements on several occasions, benefiting from a live band’s backing in place of overly slick studio productions. The evening also reached an emotional pinnacle during an acoustic rendition of “Take Me As I Am,” which highlighted her bellowing pipes and message of empowerment all the more given the stripped down setting. Regardless of her tempos or topic, Blige’s vocals were consistently solid, though even more impressive was her ability to blend down to earth appeal with a larger than life stage presence. 18 CCM