Mary J. Blige worked so hard onstage, you felt guilty for sitting down for a few minutes.
After all, if the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, who hits 40 in three months, can perform for 90 minutes nonstop with only the briefest of costume changes halting her momentum, her fans should be able to keep up.
But it was difficult for the crowd of more than 6,500 to match her unflagging energy, no matter how much adrenaline pumped through them.
That’s because Blige, who looked sleek and hip in a shimmery, skintight body suit and thigh-high black boots, constructed a show designed to cycle seamlessly through her 18 years of hits.
If there is a minor quibble with Saturday’s perfect-weather concert at Chastain Park – the official kickoff of her “Music Saved My Life” tour — it’s that some of the songs were performed in medley form rather than full versions.
But the pacing worked in Blige’s favor. Not only did she manage to squeeze about 30 tunes into the set, but the segues between songs such as “MJB Da MVP” and “The One” allowed her a few moments to slam down some funky moves with the two male dancers who occasionally joined her.
Amid chants of “Go Mary, go Mary,” Blige thrust her hips and even launched a few sidekicks as an entry into “Real Love,” her first Top 10 hit from 1992.
“I can feel the vibe,” Blige said from the stage as the frenzied crowd demonstrated their adoration with their own fevered dancing.
Although Blige’s searing lyrics speak so fully to women – about 75 percent of Saturday’s crowd was female – she adeptly straddles the line between the penthouse and the street so that men also find plenty to admire about her musically.
Indeed, the males on site at Chastain didn’t exactly seem as if attending was a burden, as most contentedly nodded along to the ceaseless pulse.
To best present her career-spanning set list, Blige has employed a technically dexterous six-piece band and three backup singers who provided lustrous harmonies on “I Love U (Yes I Do)” and “You Remind Me” – though Blige certainly didn’t rely on them for the heavy lifting.
The first appearance of her dramatic wail came on “Your Child,” and it was evident that Blige hasn’t lost any of the raw edge that has become her trademark.
Before sliding into the silken soul of “Love Is All We Need,” Blige explained the meaning behind the name of the tour, which hits 11 cities this month before she heads to England and Australia.
“What I realized as a woman was that God blessed me with a voice…and God used music to save my life,” she said.
He also blessed her with an enviable amount of stamina.
Opener Jazmine Sullivan might be a protégé of Missy Elliott, but the 23-year-old from Philly shares a style and mindset similar to that of Blige.
During her 35-minute set, the poised Sullivan, her powerful voice dripping with attitude, rolled through “Bust Your Windows” and “10 Seconds,” two songs that follow Blige’s model of the female empowerment anthem.
She also added a couple of fun surprises with a faithful rendition of SWV’s classic ballad, “Weak” and, in the middle of her recent Top 10 R&B hit, “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles),” a brief dance routine — complete with old school moves — set to Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.”
Expect Sullivan to continue her ascent with her second album, “Love Me Back,” due next month. While her songs might not veer much from the standard R&B mold, her potent pipes are noteworthy.