The Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Ms. Mary J. Blige, received her flowers on Saturday, March 11th, when tribute band Just Fine made a stop at Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a massive fan of Mary’s live performance. However, I am always down to support a tribute band and anyone living their dreams.
The show began with the opening act Korry Thompson who performed an Usher tribute. As we all know, Usher is a top-tier performer, so anyone who chooses to perform anything by the singer has to bring their A-game. Thompson took the stage for twenty-five minutes, performing hits from Usher’s three-decades-long career. “Caught Up,” “U Don’t Have To Call,” and “U Make Me Wanna” were some of the up-tempo numbers in the setlist.
Thompson’s vocal register is more in line with Tank and Jaheim’s. So despite his best efforts, the songs didn’t hit as hard as they could have. The singer had more success on some of Usher’s slow jams, which included “Superstar,” “Nice & Slow,” and a personal favorite, “That’s What It’s Made For.” Nevertheless, Thompson did entertain the audience with confidence, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him paying tribute to another artist more in line with his vocal range.
Shortly after that, the audience groaned to a medley of songs from Mary’s catalog in anticipation of show time. The dancers came out in unison before “Mary” took the stage. To my surprise, “All Night Long” from Mary’s iconic sophomore album started the show and quickly transitioned into a one-two punch of “Love No Limit” and “Real Love.” Throughout the show’s first half, the audience was treated to all Mary’s hits from her first two albums. One of the most well-received numbers of the show was Mary’s cover of the Rose Royce bop “I’m Going Down.”
After an entertaining intermission by a humorous MC, the show’s second half kicked off. “Share My World” kicked off the show’s second half, focusing on Blige’s late nineties and early 21st-century albums. “You Are Everything,” “No More Drama,” “Enough Crying,” “Family Affair,” and an emotionally driven “Not Gon Cry” all went over well with the crowd. Before closing the show with “Just Fine,” Nesh informed the crowd that she only focuses on Mary’s older catalog as Ms. Blige is still in her touring prime. I can respect that decision, but I wouldn’t mind if she added “Shakedown” into the setlist.
I saw Mary live during the Share My World Tour in the spring of 1998. Mary was still battling her demons at the time, which may be the reason for the delay in the start time and the off-pitch singing. Nevertheless, twenty years later, Mary has racked up an impressive catalog of songs I want to hear live. I may revisit the authentic one, but until Just Fine will do.
Final Grade: B+
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