For the final night of “The King + Queen Of Hearts” World Tour, Maxwell and Mary J. Blige seemed to spice up their separate sets as a crowded United Center endlessly snapped photos and sang alongside the soulful co-headliners. “Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul” Mary J. Blige was the first to appear, and though her charismatic showmanship ran rampant throughout 90 minutes, she was also incredibly down to earth speaking of her struggles (including an extremely messy divorce) and empowering fans (especially the women) to rise above their circumstances.
Shortly thereafter, Maxwell, four core musicians and three supporting singers (two of whom sometimes doubled on brass) took a decidedly softer tone, but one that proved equally interactive with the ladies.
Sure, the more than 50 million album seller could’ve easily played the diva card, but instead displayed some of her most disparaging tabloid headlines on a curtain prior to bursting out from behind it to such perseverance anthems as “Love Yourself” and “Just Fine.” Along with a four-piece band and three background singers, Blige dipped all the way back to “Real Love” through the brand new “Thick Of It,” while capping off her lessons of self-respect with a striking rendition of “No More Drama,” drawing tears from many concertgoers as she fell to her knees then theatrically rose in victory.
Shortly thereafter, Maxwell, four core musicians and three supporting singers (two of whom sometimes doubled on brass) took a decidedly softer tone, but one that proved equally interactive with the ladies. At 43, the singer/songwriter continues to live up to his suave and seductive persona, creating quite a stir as he entered to the throbbing beats of “Dancewitme” and even more so after swiveling down the catwalk during “Bad Habits” (when Blige was spotted grooving behind the security barricade).
Though the advancing hour had some folks leaving a little early, those that stayed were rewarded with tunes off the new “blackSUMMERS’night” (part two of a conceptual trilogy about a woman’s evening out on the town), plus several dusties from his neo-soul ascent (“Whenever, Wherever, Whatever,” “Sumthin’ Sumthin’”) that basically served as the second coming of Sade in male form. Even so, Maxwell’s a fella of few comparisons, which became additionally evident when “Pretty Wings” spread out with beauty, sophistication and a tender touch that signified his status as one of R&B’s most regarded artists and gentlemen.
Upcoming concert highlights at the United Center include 107.5 WGCI Big Jam (Dec. 30); Kings Of Leon (Jan. 23); Twenty One Pilots (Jan. 28); Ariana Grande (Mar. 14); Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey (Mar. 25); Bon Jovi (Mar. 26); Neil Diamond (May 28); Red Hot Chili Peppers (June 30 and July 1); Roger Waters (July 22 and 23) and Bruno Mars (Aug. 16, 17 and 19). For additional details, visit UnitedCenter.com, LiveNation.com and Ticketmaster.com.