For Mary J. Blige to appear on VH1’s Storytellers seems almost unnecessary. After all, isn’t every Mary J. Blige album an hour-long episode of Storytellers in itself — lots of catchy songs, packed with heart-baring confessions about Mary’s life and the circumstances under which they were written?
Snark aside, that didn’t make last night’s Storytellers taping any less fun. Joined by a full band and an enthusiastic audience at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom, Mary ran through a tight set of 10 of her big hits — from the new-jack-swing-isms of 1992’s “Real Love” to polished ‘08 anthems like “Fade Away” and “Hurt Again” — with frequent breaks for her to extol the importance of self-esteem and self-empowerment. (Total number of times Blige referred to herself in the third person as “Mary,” “Mary J. Blige,” or “MJB”: eight, not counting two more mentions in song lyrics.) So what if we didn’t learn anything truly new about Mary J. Blige’s art, let alone details of her alleged role in this week’s bizarre music-biz doping scandal? Her triumph-over-adversity talk definitely moved me, and I heard a pretty similar spiel in person just last month.
Besides, she’s one hell of a live performer. Her opener, “Just Fine,” was sadly lacking a cameo from NBC correspondent David Gregory, but it did include some extra high notes which she hit with ease. “No More Drama” was a downright out-of-body experience, with Mary flinging herself around the stage in rapture. “Mary J. Blige has never experienced a string section, except at the Grammys or something big,” she said with a nod to the mini-orchestra behind her. “Those amazing violin players bring just the right amount of drama — the drama that you need!” For the house full of worshipful fans, at least, it sure was what we needed.