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Mary J. Blige and Maxwell honor the R&B tradition at the Sprint Center

jsleezer@kcstar.com

A mighty one-two punch from the R&B heavyweights Mary J. Blige and Maxwell floored an audience of about 10,000 at the Sprint Center on Monday.

The potent pairing of the veteran artists from New York acted as a powerful demonstration of soul music’s ability to heal aching hearts and inspire troubled minds. Blige focused on a message of personal empowerment. Societal issues were addressed during Maxwell’s outing.

Following a brief opening appearance from the R&B upstart Ro James, Blige’s riveting 90-minute set ranged from her 1992 breakout song “Real Love” to the recent chart-topper “Thick of It.” Blige and a seven-piece backing band raced through abbreviated versions of several of her inviolable hits. The truncation of classics like “Be Happy” was an act of soul sacrilege.

“Don’t Mind,” one of a handful of selections on which Blige took her time, showcased her strengths. She paused during “Don’t Mind” to offer relationship advice that she characterized as “all the way real from what I’m experiencing.”

The ongoing personal challenges that Blige referred to as “my trials and tribulations” inform her pain-wracked work.

Even when she drifted off-key on “My Life,” Blige revealed more emotional depth during the song than some pitch-perfect singers convey in an entire concert. After acknowledging that “life is so hard at times” in her introduction to “No More Drama,” Blige unleashed a couple primal screams before collapsing at the conclusion of the poignant hit.

Maxwell is one of only a handful of R&B artists capable of topping Blige’s theatrics. As during Blige’s set, Maxwell and eight supplemental musicians made excellent use of an elaborate production that included pyrotechnics and live footage projected on rotating video screens.

Although the star elicited thousands of aroused sighs when he applied his heavenly falsetto and evocative growl to “Bad Habits” while enveloped in fog at the end of a stage runway, Maxwell wasn’t merely interested in stimulating libidos. He was also determined to raise the consciousness of his admirers.

A video montage during a heartrending interpretation of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” contrasted images of recently departed notables such as Prince and David Bowie with documentation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Maxwell concluded the deeply affecting montage by toasting “to a new world, to love, to peace and harmony.”

The juxtaposition made the connection between Maxwell and his musical forebears like Marvin Gaye more explicit. Maxwell explained that he and Blige “stand on the tradition on the shoulders of soul music.” The pair burnished the vital legacy on Monday.

Mary J. Blige set list

Love Yourself; Just Fine; The One; You Bring Me Joy; Love Is All We Need; Real Love; Be Happy; Love No Limit; Enough Cryin’; I Can Love You; Don’t Mind; Share My World; Take Me as I Am; Good Woman Down; My Life; I'm Goin’ Down; Thick of It; Not Gon’ Cry; No More Drama; Sweet Thing; Family Affair

Maxwell set list

Dancewitme; Cold; Bad Habits; Love You; This Woman’s Work; Lifetime; Whenever Wherever Whatever; ...Til The Cops Come; Knockin’; 1990x; Lake by the Ocean; Sumthin’ Sumthin’; Fortunate; Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder); Pretty Wings

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