Mary J. Blige more than earned her title “queen of hip-hop soul” in two packed shows Friday and Saturday nights at DAR Constitution Hall.
Miss Blige’s 1-1/2-hour set touched on most of her hits from a decade-long career, including those from her latest release, “No More Drama.”
Amid chants of “Mary, Mary” the singer appeared onstage wearing track-suit pants and a red leather sports jacket with her name splashed across the front. Singing to what initially sounded like a spaceship taking off, Miss Blige started out with the first track of her new album, “Love.”
Her backing band, which included two keyboard players, two drummers, three backup singers and a bassist (not to mention four backup dancers), often stood back to let Miss Blige’s voice become the central attraction. She has allowed her voice to develop in such a way that it often works like an electric guitar, riffing in one octave before effortlessly switching to another.
She also seemed firmly rooted in the soul end of her title, finally earning those early career comparisons to Aretha Franklin.
The only point in the show that slowed was a weighty middle filled with many of her ballads, which normally are strong songs for her, but which retarded the show’s pace when strung together. Miss Blige started these midtempo numbers with a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “All That I Can Say” (off her 1999 album “Mary”) before switching to “Be Happy,” the final track on her 1994 album “My Life.”
The first costume change came midway through the set, and the singer re-emerged onstage wearing a simple tank top with the slogan “Icon” emblazoned across the front in sequins. She moved into a series of inspirational midtempo numbers with “Keep Your Head,” featuring her riffing on the line “children of the ghetto”; the low-key number “I’m Going Down”; and “Your Child,” a passionate drubbing of deadbeat fathers.
The highlight was “No More Drama,” one of her current singles, with its opening piano line borrowed from the daytime soap “The Young and the Restless.” Miss Blige returned to the stage for the number wearing an all-white suit and fedora and gave it all she had. She belted out its repeated chorus of “no more drama in my life no one’s gonna make me hurt again.”
She closed her pre-encore numbers with the Stylistics’ “You Are My Everything,” prefacing it by saying, “This one’s for the fans.”
Miss Blige came back for only one encore after thunderous applause. She performed “Family Affair,” the most recognizable song off her latest album.