American R&B diva Mary J. Blige performs in her first Korean concert at Grand Peace Palace, northern Seoul, Sunday. / Yonhap
By Ines Min
All hailed the queen of R&B.
Mary J. Blige rocked the house in her debut performance here Sunday, at Kyung Hee University’s Grand Peace Palace, northern Seoul.
As part of the Asian leg of her five-continent “Music Saved My Life” tour, Blige presented a passionate torrent of rhythmic hits, luring in the shy Korean audience with her enthusiasm and undisputed skills over a 90-minute set.
“MVP” kicked off the concert, following an introduction that saw a sparkling black body-suited Blige enter the stage to a neon-lit standing microphone. Her knee-high, high-heeled boots added even more stature to her presence, as she roamed the stage gracefully.
“It’s so good to be here, the welcome is so warm,” Blige greeted the rustling audience, along with a fair “annyeong-haseyo” (hello). Though she just turned 40 last week, the legendary performer seemed enthusiastic three months into her worldwide tour — her voice timeless.
A clean combination of cut-and-paste segues saw verses from “I’m the Only Woman” and “I Luv U,” buttressed by Blige’s three background singers, three keyboardists, a guitarist, bassist and talented drummer.
Though a misbalance in the sound mix of high and low frequencies lent toward muddled instrumentals, Blige cut through the ringing din — filling the theater with her pure voice.
A soulful train of songs, including “Reminisce,” was accompanied by her smooth dancing skills before breaking down the stage with the pique song “Good Woman Down.” The performer shook, jumped and shimmied in perfect motion, spurring the crowd to rise in an emotional fervor.
While foreigners peppered the domestic crowd, providing the majority of the singing call-backs and supportive hand waves, halfway into the concert most of the sit-down audience stood up to dance — by its finale, the entirety of the first floor raved for the queen of hip hop, all self-consciousness forgotten, hands swaying shamelessly in the air.
“Family Affair,” “Just Fine” and “I Am” proved crowd pleasers as Blige went on a roll of hits, before some more audience interaction integrated with the sporadic “gamsahamnida” (thank you).
Philosophically-geared inspirational messages marked the singer’s chit chat, echoing the theme of the tour: “Sometimes we gotta go in,” “News flash: we already made it.”
Though she stayed away from new material from her upcoming album this year, the classic selection of tracks offered just the right amount of nostalgia and modern MJB.
A cry of “I love you” and “I see you, thank you” inspired roars of appreciation from the crowd. Returned “I love you’s” from Koreans in the attendance could be heard from the second floor, while local stars Big Bang and Insooni were also spotted among the throng.
The final verdict from the crowd proved evident in calls for more. Rather than the traditional, two-beat call for “encore, encore,” concertgoers instead went for a more personal “Mary, Mary!” before the singer acquiesced with “Be Without You.”
A final, low bow marked Blige’s exit as fans cheered in cathartic release (one man was seen hailing the performer with both arms, in iconic prostration).
Though ticket printing problems plagued Internet reservations, causing some to miss the opening act by Superstar K finalist Jang Jae-in, the romping show wiped away all memories of frustration.
A mere hour after the show, Blige uploaded on Twitter: “Thank u Korea 4 an amazing night and a warm Welcome!!! My first Time here!!! Felt like home!!!”