Photos by Angelo Marchini.
The King And Queen Of Hearts tour finally made its way to Toronto last night to deliver a much-needed night for a spiritual healing of the soul. Pairing up the queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige with neo-soul singer-songwriter Maxwell, the cavernous Air Canada Centre was undersold with the upper deck empty, but that was the loss of many who could have filled those seats.
Mary hit the stage promptly at 7:30 and kicked off her 90 minute set with “Love Yourself”. Miss Blige is about to release her 12th album Strength Of A Woman, but last night was all about celebrating this woman’s strength on a rollercoaster journey for 25 years now.
Her focus was the first half of her career with a healthy portion of the set culled from 1992’s What’s The 411, 1994’s My Life and 1997’s Share My World. The full band Mary brought with her really brought the funk especially on the earlier tracks. Unfortunately her bassist got missed due to a glitch during a video introducing the band.
The big star of the set was none other than Mary who worked the entire stage endlessly and worked non-stop to empower the women attending. And that voice? I’ve wanted to see Mary and hear that voice in person and it did not disappoint as her instrument soared to the heavens. She wore her emotions on her sleeves and I felt most of them. Most of all she brought my joy.
There were brief pauses for a couple of outfit change3s and she took the time to address the fellas on behalf of all the ladies in the house, but this was the church of Mary and after briefly addressing her impending divorce “it sucks”, she brought the house down with an explosive finale tearing through new track “Thick of It” followed by “Not Gon’ Cry”, “No More Drama” and “Family Affair” to close out the night.
I’m relatively new to the Maxwell party, only jumping on his seductive wagon on the first installment of his Black Summers Night trilogy released in 2009. The second par was recently released and will be one of my discs of the year, but he’s also been releasing albums for 20 years now, although not that prolific with these releases although they were all represented last night.
As Prince’s “Kiss” blasted through the arena, the lights went down and Maxwell dressed in a nice suit also backed by an impressive band, including some horns, kicked off their almost 90 minute set with “Dancewithme” from his 1996 debut, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.
Maxwell’s falsetto made the females in the audience swoon, not so much hollering, and provoked a little jealousy in the fellas – truly his voice is a beautiful gift.
Now anyone who knows me knows Kate Bush is very sacred to me, but Maxwell’s version of “This Woman’s Work” is a worthy cover. His presentation of the song live was one of the most affecting live songs I’ve heard all year. The original, or some demo version it sounded like, introduced the song with images of Kate and the song lyrics blazed across the screen. When Maxwell started singing images of Prince gave way to moments of and moments that led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Truly one of the most powerful live moments I’ve seen.
Compared to Mary the crowd was more restrained in their applause. Maybe Maxwell had inspired everyone to make-out, or maybe they all ran home to make out! Maxwell called it best himself when he said Mary was the party and he was the after-party.
Either way the man killed it and from new song “Lake By The Ocean” on he managed to elicit the cheers he was rightfully due.