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Blige's steamy soul matches the weather

The steam rising off the Bank of America Pavilion last night was only partially generated by the ferocious temperatures hitting the Hub.

Mary J. Blige came with game so hot that it's a wonder the near-capacity crowd didn't melt.

But fans expect the fierce, and the tender, from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul and she delivered both in a two-hour show that was equal parts musical throwdown and therapy session.

Since getting her life on track following a single-parent childhood fraught with abuse and struggles with alcohol and volatile relationships -- re-enacted on video screens during the dramatic ``Father in You" -- Blige has become something of an agony aunt for her audiences and looks to them for reciprocation. That connection was locked in last night as the Yonkers native seemed to take in the frustrations of her fans -- especially the many women -- and channel them into her songs of rage and wonderment, self-loathing and self-loving, offering her brand of advice through vocals that were often otherworldly in their eruptive quality. (That is during the merciful stretches in which the ``would you like some bass with your bass?" approach to sound mixing allowed enough space).

Backed by an eight-piece band, Blige emerged from beneath her two-tiered stage in the first of four snazzy costumes belting out a bit of ``MJB Da MVP." Then she embarked on a near seamless run of uptempo dance jams including a medley of classics such as ``Real Love" and ``Reminisce," the new ``Enough Crying," and the jubilant, melodic ``Good Woman Down" .

During the overly long and sometimes tepid ballad portion of the evening -- which included ``You Bring Me Joy" and an audience-sung ``I'm Goin' Down" -- Blige, as is her custom, took time to urge her fans to know and love themselves in order to be truly known and loved by others. It may not be breaking news but it was a worthwhile message that drew cheers that will hopefully spill over into action for some.

The temperatures rose again on an incendiary ``No More Drama" with Blige pouring her seemingly endless soul into her agreeably weathered wail that no pyro flames or sparkles could match for spectacle. That segued into a poignant rendition of U2's ``One" and the irresistible and bouncy radio monster ``Be Without You."

Deadline obligations necessitated a pre-encore departure but Blige released the pressure valve with the crunked up ``Family Affair," which carried the other early exiters buoyantly along.

Letoya Luckett did some fancy stepping while offering up a 15-minute sampler from her recent, self-titled debut and proved an efficient if not particularly unique warm-up act. The single ``Torn" drew the only real cheers for the former Destiny's Child singer.

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