Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Mary J. Blige and Maxwell, O2, London 28/10/16

Mary J. Blige: O2, London 28/10/16
Mary J. Blige: O2, London 28/10/16 Mary J. Blige: O2, London 28/10/16 Maxwell: O2, London 28/10/16 Maxwell: O2, London 28/10/16

As statements of intent go, this was big. Branded the King and Queen of Hearts tour, one of London's biggest music arenas was booked to host joint headliners, Mary J Blige and Maxwell.

The R&B legend and neo-soul trailblazer each have 20-year careers under their belts, and yet neither of them are content to sink into the background.

Maxwell, for example, has released one of 2016's strongest albums, the excellent "BlackSUMMERS'night", and Mary J. remains a formidable force.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it was Mary J. who took to the stage, surprising because of the huge commercial success she's achieved - 50 million plus albums sold - for those who are counting. With a huge room to fill, a lot of the crowd had presumably expected her dancefloor fillers to be the climax of the night.

She is a powerful performer, as her latest album "Strength of A Woman" reveals her emotional depth, having been through some pretty tough times in her personal life.

The positive message of "Love Yourself" gets her show off to a lively start, the singer's voice and heavy beats filling the arena, which is no mean feat.

Her marriage breakdown clearly weighs heavily on her mind, and yet she draws inspiration from her experience.

"Enough Cryin'" and "Take Me As I Am" showcase her astonishing vocal range and resilience in the face of her well-documented turmoil, and latest single "The Thick of It" - the only new track to be performed in this huge venue - is delivered with power and emotion.

Crowd pleasers "No More Drama" and "Family Affair" follow, and her set thunders to a close leaving Maxwell with a hard act to follow.

They are very different singers, and the O2 isn't necessarily the perfect venue for the second headliner's layered, more sultry tracks - which are arguably better suited to smaller, more intimate venues.

The distinctive hair from the 90s has been cropped closer, but the singer once dubbed "the Marvin Gaye of the 90s" still has the voice that catapulted him to fame with 1996's outstanding debut, "Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite".

Dressed smartly in a suit and wearing shades for most of the show, he looked the epitome of cool on the landmark stage.

His early material made up a substantial part of his set, with "Dancewitme" and "Everwanting" getting proceedings underway.

It was a sultry show, with the pioneer in fine voice in front of a packed arena. While the huge room remained a challenge, the quality of material was enough to see him through.

Favourites from his debut included "Till The Cops Come Knocking" and "Somethin' Somethin'", and his version of "Ascenscion (Don't Ever Wonder)" was a masterclass.

He also performed a stunning version of Kate Bush classic "This Woman's Work", while current album highlight "Lake By The Ocean" was superbly executed.

It was a show of very different halves, and yet both contributed to a top night at one of London's flagship venues.

They may both have been pioneers back in the 90s, but their recent material and performances show the King and Queen of Hearts still have plenty more to give.

Words Dave Burke

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