Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige capture Heart of the City

A review of Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige at the TD Banknorth Garden on April 3, 2008

, Staff Writer

On the day it was reported that he signed a $150 million dollar deal with Live Nation, Jay-Z, along with some help from Mary J. Blige, delivered the goods at the TD Banknorth Garden. Jay told the New York Times that he has “turned into the Rolling Stones of hip-hop,” and he lived up to the comparison by putting on one of the best rock shows, excuse me, roc shows, of the year.

Starting off with a co-operative version of “Can’t Knock the Hustle”, Jay and Mary J. mugged and hugged for the cameras in front of a NYC skyline backdrop and a backing band full of horns, strings, singers, drummers, bass, and guitar. Nothing eclipsed the mega-watt shine from the stars and their shiny attire, however, as everything from the sound mix to the screens was focused on the duo.

Blige led off with a set strong on emotion, beginning with “You’re All I Need to Get By”, which was propelled by drums bigger than the garden and culminated in an impressive scat solo by Blige. Blige had the ladies in her pocket with songs like “Sweet Thang” and “Be Happy”, and she won the guys over with her hit “Real Love”, for which Jay ran back onstage to deliver a quick verse.

The strength of Blige’s performance was not in her voice, though it was impressive, or in her showmanship, which was serviceable, but in her emotion, a palpable force that was even more powerful when the big screens captured tears running down her face during the ending of “Your Child”.

“Stay Down” was huge, as Blige emoted all over the stage, and the tormented delivery during “No More Pain” was easy to see even without the aid of the screens. Blige also showed her ability to loosen up and party a little bit, with playful takes on The Game and Kanye West, but finished off with more passion on “Be Without You”.

As Blige’s set ended the venue darkened, and an interview of the two headliners appeared on the screens. This was the cue for everyone in the place to go completely crazy, as Jay Z took the stage to the chorus of “Bad Guy” and a video clip from Reservoir Dogs. “Bad Guy” quickly dissipated into the irresistible hook of “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is…)” and the party was underway.

The sheer number of hits available for the setlist was an asset that Jay toyed with all night, giving the audience a full take on “I Know” but teasing them with part of “I Just Wanna Luv U” before the mammoth “Show Me What You Got”, after which Jay said “that’s a bad man” of his drummer, who had just finished a drum solo fit for any rock concert.

Jay took it back old school, dedicating “Can I Live” to everyone with Reasonable Doubt, which turned out to be a lot of people. He then invited Memphis Bleek out for high energy runs through “U Don’t Know”, which featured footage of Kurt Cobain, and “99 Problems”, which had its riff twisted into ACDC’s “Back in Black”.

The highs kept coming as MJB rejoined Hov for “Song Cry”, lending her strong vocals to the hook and dominating the power ballad, which was greeted with actual lighters (you can’t light all the joints that were in the Garden with cell phones). She then continued with “Take Me As I Am” as Jay left the stage for a costume change, returning for “Dead Presidents”.

“Pray”, from American Gangster, was one of the surprising hits of the night. In front of an intense video of historical calamities and atrocities, Jay and company took a psychedelic, restrained stroll through the song. “Jigga What” brought it back mainstream and featured Jay’s best rapping on the night.

Continuing on with the name game, Jay flirted with verses from “Jigga” and “H to the Izzo”, full of bright pyro and brighter horns. “Can I Get A” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” got the crowd hyped, but it was the Black Album’s “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” and its great verses that truly impressed.

Jay Z took some time to get a little political, leading the audience in giving a large picture of George Bush the middle finger, then asking the crowd if they “were ready for change” as the screen changed to a picture of Obama, smiling in front of an American flag. Jay took care to say that the concert wasn’t sponsored, then dove into the far and away best part of the night.

Making his way over to the DJ booth, Jay began spinning hit after hit after hit, from “Lucifer” to “Money Ain’t a Thing” to “Hard Knock Life” to collaborations like “Fiesta”, “Crazy In Love”, “Umbrella”, and “Hello, Brooklyn”. For about at least a chorus, and sometimes longer, Jay would lead the audience in a sing-along, then gradually let the audience take over before saying “Fuck that” and moving onto the next song (the one exception was “Crazy In Love”, which ended with “Sorry B….Fuck that too). It was Jay absolutely flaunting his embarrassment of riches, ending the bit by saying, “I got a lot of records. Be honest.” The audience got to hear everything they wanted, even if it was only in little pieces, and Jay got to show just how high above the rest of the rap game he actually is.

After choosing “Big Pimpin’” to perform with the crowd essentially a cappella, Jay ended the mainset with “Encore”, leaving the stage through a trap door lift as the Garden threw their diamonds in the sky for the umpteenth time. He and Blige returned for “Heart of the City”, from whence the tour got its name, with MJB showing that she is the ultimate hook singer, and the band showing their versatility by lapsing into a rasta rhythm, and Jay showing all of his skills.

There were no faults, no missteps. Each artist came equipped with a catalogue of hits, truckloads of talent, star power, you name it, Mary J and Jay Z had it. The show’s production values were top notch, the backing band’s were superbly musical, and the crowd had high energy throughout.& The pairing was inspired, and the solo sets were strong. The Heart of the City tour was a huge success, and thanks to Jay’s $150 million deal, we can look forward to night’s like this for years to come.

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