December 16, 2014
John Legend, inheritor of the smooth sexy R&B of Marvin Gaye and Al Green and journeyman to the superstars, has had a slow burning ascent since his first album, Get Lifted, hit internationally and won him three Grammys in 2004.
His sold-out Riverside Theatre show on Tuesday demonstrated that his star now burns as bright as those of his illustrious peers.
Legend is a phenomenally self-contained artist and performer; while he is touring with an exquisite three-piece band (Brian Green on guitar, Rashid Williams on drums and the mesmerising Daniel McKay on bass) and a tasty, committed string section, everything you see and hear is his own doing. His piano playing is sophisticated and complex, his vocals stylish and subtle, everything perfectly in sync with his material, all verses and bridges, seamless progressions and key changes with hardly a big ol’ chorus in sight.
Legend has a deep grounding in worship. He was in the choir of his church at four, playing the piano at six. His take on Bridge Over Troubled Waters – the gold standard of white gospel music – showed all of that grounding and natural instinct.
It was one of two covers Legend performed (Michael Jackson’s Rock With You the other) in a 20-song set.
The rest was a happily predictable journey through his career from Used to Love U and Ordinary People from his debut album through to his huge All of Me from last year’s Love in the Future. There was the cocky seductiveness of Tonight (Best You Ever Had), the sly rhumba of Maxine, the slinky little minor-chord blues of Save Room and the big ballad Who Do We Think We Are.
While it wasn't a deal-breaker, the sound, especially with the full band
playing, was disappointing when there were such fine musicians on
stage. But through it all the audience held up their i6s and i6pluses like votive candles, the swaying arms of previous generations of audiences now given way to the stock still concentration of smart phone cameras. (Incidentally, the scores for the string section were on iPads, not music stands – how far we’ve come)
And they sang along all night, cheered for every song and, in one case, popped the question on the balcony to massive applause from a crowd leaving happily from an artist whose dream “was to be exactly where I am now”.
This review appeared in The West Australian 19.12.14