Working a Los Angeles crowd with her tectonic voice and hotly responsive live band as much as her “What’s up, L.A.?” patter, Mary J. Blige asserts mastery over three albums’ worth of R&B hits because where others say they give it all for the fans, Blige in her moment actually seems to be giving it all for her fans. Ad-libbing over a snippet of Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness,” she introduces “You Gotta Believe” by saying, “this segment of the show is for everybody that went through the struggle with me during the It’s My Life album” (she can re-title it how she wants). After leaving some of herself on the floor for “Not Gon’ Cry,” she interjects, “Was he worth it, ladies? Hell, no!,” and later dedicates ["you're my"] “Everything” to the audience.
She’s a pro even when singing her mind out, years past living down an early rep for clumsiness. So additional songs recorded at Sony Studios in New York fill out the sequence rather than paper over gaps, letting her bond with her parents’ generation by rendering Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming” and Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” as forcefully as anything else. If the 1998 release containing these tracks now seems quaint beside her studio albums, it was everywhere then, solidifying Blige’s status as a voice of comfort on long bus rides into the night, and offering one of contemporary R&B’s few essential live albums.