Last Night: Mary J. Blige & D'Angelo at Toyota Center

Mary J. Blige, D'Angelo Toyota Center September 2, 2012

There's a wildly popular scene in comedian/actor Jamie Foxx's hit late 90s television show, The Jamie Foxx Show, in which he dresses up -- or undresses, actually -- as funk singer D'Angelo in penance for some slight done to his girlfriend. In the scene, Foxx delivers a hilariously inappropriate performance à la D'Angelo's provocative "(Untitled) How Does it Feel", video, in which the singer simulated male nudity. Not only is it one of the best scenes in The Jamie Foxx Show, it's one of music's most famous (infamous?) videos, and the singer's sex-symbol stamp.

Almost as if he had a sixth sense, D'Angelo held off on that song during his hour-long opening set at Toyota Center Sunday night, though it was the one the ladies in the audience wanted the very most. Instead, the funk singer, born Michael Eugene Archer, teased things out.

He started wild, fast and funky with hits "Left and Right," then getting slower ("Lady"), and slower ("Another Life," a song from his new album), and slower ("Brown Sugar"), until nothing was left on stage but D'Angelo, a piano and him banging out the first lusty chords -- to the panty-wetting delight of the women in attendance -- of the song that made his name synonymous with baby-making music.

However, the road to recovery may have muzzled the muscled reflexes of the crooner, who chose to stay covered up to the dismay of audience members.

"We didn't pay to see you with your clothes on!", yelled a woman behind us.

Too bad. On the mend from a hazy few years filled with arrests and plump mugshots, D'Angelo is back with a third studio album and a knife-sharp vocal preciscion -- and he is determined to start a better chapter, even if that means remaining clothed.

In the wildly popular YouTube series Got 2 Be Real, creator "Patti LaHelle" splices together interviews given at one time or another by R&B divas (Aretha, Beyonce, Mariah, etc.), voices snarky repartee over their niceties and compiles them into a variety show that pits the divas against one another. A step up from slinging mud, these women "throw shade," an urban term to describe ladies-who-lunch, and exchange biting insults.

For example, Fake Mariah may taunt Fake Fantasia's reported lowered educational IQ, while Fake Beyonce may snicker over Fake Rihanna's hit-or-miss vocal ability. Fake Toni Braxton is the one usually posited against Fake Mary J. Blige, and while Blige always comes after Braxton's career scandals -- her bankruptcy, for instance -- Braxton always bests her opponent with a self-assured joke about her preternaturally flat tone.

What may work for a quick laugh on YouTube would've fallen on deaf ears during Blige's performance at Toyota Center Sunday night, though. Blige's (the real one) set Sunday proved that, on-pitch or not, she is more than a voice. She is a force, a personified message of empowerment to women everywhere.

In an even greater show of female solidarity, Blige brought along two younger women: Starshell, the first signee to her aptly named new label Matriarch Records, and Melanie Fiona, a young singer carrying her own torch of feminine liberation.

"Fellas, no disrespect to you," Blige shouted, "but I am a woman, and I can only relate to the women."

That she did, cementing a bond to the heavily female crowd with back-to-back female anthems: "Out My Mind, "Love a Woman" (co-written by Houston-born Beyonce) and "You Are My Everything," Unexpectedly, she pulled out three of her greatest, most gut-punching hits -- "Family Affair" "Not Gon' Cry" and what may very well go down as her best song, "Real Love" -- rather early.

Soon it became clear: It's not pitch problems with Blige, it's emotion. When she sings, every part of her shakes, including her voice. It's as if she's reliving her ordeal all over again, with your ears playing witness to the aftermath. And no one could have noticed if she was off-key anyway. Her show was a seizure-inducing spectacle of blinding lights, something that one usually only sees when passing through a neighborhood during Christmas time.

And the outfits. Blige is a known fashionista, and girlfriend strutted through the first part of her set in a fire-red short set and thigh-high boots to put any of the women toddler-wobbling around Toyota Center in six-inch heels to shame. Having proved her point, she followed up her attention-grabbing garb with a demure black gown for the second half.

Proving any post-scandal her-career-is-dead detractors wrong, Blige proudly gave the crowd an intense performance of the once embarrassing song-turned-chicken-commercial-turned song again, "Don't Mind," along with another recent hit, "Mr. Wrong."

By the time Blige's biggest heartbreak song, "I'm Going Down," rolled around, she didn't even have to sing, proving just how much bigger she is than a note in a song -- the crowd did it for her.

Take that, Fake Toni Braxton.

The Crowd: Mostly women ages 21-40.

Overhead In the Crowd: "She's so underrated," said a woman about Melanie Fiona.

Random Notebook Dump: Seriously, how many times do people have to get up to go to the bathroom/concessions/whatever? Sit down! Also, if a concert is advertised to start at 7 p.m., kindly don't arrive at 12:06 a.m.

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