The 90’s. Arguably the golden era of music, at least for me. Back when people still had house parties, and danced like no one was watching. Mary J. Blige’s debut album What’s The 411 ushered in a completely new era of R&B music over hip-hop beats. She broke new ground and earned the title “Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul.” But it wasn’t until her sophomore effort in 1994, My Life, that she connected with the entire spectrum of the music industry. People could easily relate to the pain she poured into each lyric and each second of that album was an intimate look into her tumultuous relationship. Conversely, Maxwell arrived in 1996 with his debut Urban Hang Suite. With his wild afro, eclectic style and velvety falsetto, Maxwell tapped into a pocket of music that straddled the line between neo-soul and “grown folks music,” more commonly associated with Luther, Stevie, and Donny. Now 20 years later, these two powerhouses joined forces for the King and Queen of Hearts Tour, which hit NYC at the world-renowned Madison Square Garden.
Mary appeared onstage, rising high into the air amongst pyro explosions, and large plumes of smoke. With her platinum blonde hair styled into a bob, large hoop earrings and dark shades, Mary wasted no time hitting her signature dance moves that I enthusiastically dubbed “auntie at the cookout” dance moves. She was in great spirits, full of energy and had no problem hitting every note during “Love Without A Limit.” Taking a minute to address the crowd, she spoke, “don’t ever try to compare me to another woman, because I’m just me! I can only be Mary!” Loud applause and cheers from the audience in response, she slid into “Share My World.”
Then the telltale notes of “I’m Going Down” blared across the speakers. I remember so many nights sitting around with my friends doing my best to sing along with Mary, and tonight amongst thousands of strangers it was no different. Mary didn’t even have to sing any of the words, we had it all covered. Another powerful moment was “No More Drama,” with words emblazoned across the large screen behind her, Mary seemed to sing as if her life depended on it, and we all felt it and connected with her.
But, we had to end it on a high note when she surprised everyone to bring out Method Man to do their version of “All I Need.” Of course that was the exact moment when I decided to run and get something to eat, but everyone at the concession booth had fun rapping along with Method Man with me while I waited.
For part 2 of the show, Maxwell came out dressed in an impeccably tailor black tux, a perfect choice for the occasion. The Brooklyn native was ecstatic to be back in his hometown and playing to a near sold-out arena. Maxwell’s set was a perfect demonstration of why he has such a loyal fan base. Unbelievably talented musicians are the backbone of his show, coupled with engaging visuals, surprises all along the way. Maxwell also made full use of the ramp leading out into the middle of the crowd, and so did one woman who was close enough to launch a pair of panties directly onto his mic stand. He flashed his signature smile in response.
A jazzier version of “Fistfull of Tears” spun the crowd into hysterics, leading into “This Woman’s Work,” with Kate Bush’s vocals leading the way. A sea of lights from everyone’s mobile phones sparked to life, and swayed back and forth while each person sang along, myself included. The woman next to me grabbed my arm. We both looked at each other and said “YESSSSS LORD!!!” Then the imagery of various police shootings flashed across the screen. Photos and footage of protests played while Maxwell knelt in reverence facing away from the crowd. “I just can’t stand to see another person die out there,” he said after the song had ended. “This is dedicated to the memories of people we lost.”
Shifting gears again, “Til The Cops Come Knocking,” “Lifetime,” and “Lake By The Ocean,” were back-to-back jams! Each time I’m taken aback seeing how great a dancer Maxwell is, but when he hit the splits I jumped up and clapped. “Get To Know Ya,” weaved into “Fortunate,” and then an unexpected cover of Prince’s “Adore” found itself fitting effortlessly into the set list. There was even time to work Q-Tip’s “Breathe And Stop” into “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” By the time the show had come to a close, “Pretty Wings” was the perfect song to send us off with; a song about loving someone enough, but having to let them go.
For me, Mary J. Blige and Maxwell were the perfect choices for this King and Queen of Hearts tour. Mary J represents the struggle, and ups and downs that comes with trying to find true love and happiness, and Maxwell represents the struggle of waiting to find the right person before settling down. As a 34-year-old single woman, I understand both struggles well. But they’ve owned their lives, and are living in the moment. I intend on doing the same.
Article: Lesley Keller