Of all the notes we wrote down during Mary J. Blige's powerhouse RodeoHouston concert at sold-out Reliant Stadium Friday night, we can boil it down to one we wrote after Blige gave U2's "One" the gospel girding Bono and the boys never quite could: "Amazing." Not only was Blige's rapid-fire 45-minute set far and away the best rodeo performance we've ever seen, it was one of the best shows we've ever seen, period. Even from the faraway press box, her voice came through loud, proud and perfect - she didn't hit a wrong note all night - and the energy she and her band generated traveled through the stadium's concrete underpinnings like an electric current.
Steered by bass lines bobbing and weaving around a firm funk foundation, with flawless transitions that made the first third of the set feel like an extended, exuberant R&B jam, Blige dispatched "Love Is All We Need," "Be Happy," "Real Love" and "Love No Limit" one after the other, before finally pausing for a deep breath after "All Night Long." She needed it for the serious gospel vocalizing of "I'm Going Down," which slowed the tempo way down and built it back up slowly as every female in the stadium (it sounded like it, anyway) sang along with an enthusiasm that might have overpowered anyone but her - but then, nobody but her could have worked their fans into such a frenzy.
By "Sweet Thing," from Blige's 1992 debut What's the 411, the older gentleman next to Aftermath who had been fast asleep during the barrel racing and mutton busting earlier was clapping and swaying, beaming ear to ear. Blige let off a "Whoo!" before "I Am," a glee-club-ready piece of inspirational pop from new album Stronger With Each Tear, like she had surprised even herself. "Can I get a sip of water?" she asked afterward to still more cheers. She needed it for the next two songs. "No More Drama" began with the quiet melancholy of the Young and the Restless piano theme and built to a fierce climax, Blige radiating strength and perseverance as she testified in full-body heaves and the energy came off of her in waves. As impressive as that was, her version of "One" was better still, as she wrested away U2's anthem from Bono and his mates - who don't do such a bad job with that song in concert themselves - conquering its inherent doubt through sheer willpower and that incredible voice.
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Then it was just time to party, with the feel-good uptempo soul of "Good Love" and "Just Fine." Aftermath peered down from the press box and nobody was sitting down. We joined them for "Family Affair," which closed out the evening with Reliant staffers in red jackets (and everyone else) dancing and no hateration in sight anywhere in the stadium.
Aftermath left the rodeo Friday feeling as giddy as we can remember in a long, long time. Those 45 minutes seemed to go by in one very intense heartbeat. Wham, bam.
Thank you, ma'am.
For more photos from the concert and the rodeo, check out our slideshow.