What is the purpose of music? It is a question that we probably do not ask ourselves often, yet as I and thousands of other fans waited in the Barclaycard Arena on a rainy Wednesday night my mind could not help but to wander why we where all there. What is the purpose of music, and why does it seem to drive us to shows such as this? As John Legend played an unbelievably striking and affecting show, the purpose of music or at least the purpose of John’s music begin to unfurl. John Legend creates music whose purpose circles around the exploration of soul and self, of body and being, of love and humanity. Each song poignant and transfixing, only magnified when played live.
This purpose was on full display, from the first lick of opening “I Know Better” to the final piano note of the close. With “I Know Better” John opened his show. Descending on a piano with the theatrically that follows the actor singer, fans were elated and giddy. As John descended from the piano he took centre stage to play R+B soul tinged “Penthouse Floor” and “Tonight (Best You Ever Had).” The grand stage with its gargantuan screens flashed brilliant patterns and images that seemed to breathe life into the darkness. The backing band, complete with impressive brass section, and the multilayered vocals from the female trio of singers gave the songs a life of their own. It was easy to see how John’s music transforms live, when they are streamed into your ears they are beautiful and life giving but when hearing them live they are dynamic and powerful. John himself seems to take on a second character on the stage, fiercely commanding every space and every note.
Up-tempo fan favourite “Love Me Now” had everyone on their feet and dancing along with Legend. Guitar centred “Made to Love” seemed to be this expansive piece of sonic brilliance that perfectly combined John’s soulful lyrical content with a pop tinged beat. “Darkness and Light” the title track for both John’s recent album and tour, is this sexy smooth song that typifies John’s sound. The R+B soul pop song has this emphatic drumbeat that gives the smoothness some sex appeal; as the tone shifts and undulates emotional pulls are highlighted, building to the tension of the tune. Often songs are not described as sensual, but that really is the only word to describe this live cut.
“Overload,” a song co written with artist Miguel, continues the seductive deliverance as the brass section comes to life. “What You Do to Me” and “Used to Love U” bump up the tempo, with their expansive instrumentals the songs feel free and filter through the room with ease. Back on the piano John launches into “Save the Night,” an anthemic pop piano tune that combines meta drums with guitar for bombastic sound. A cover of Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” is followed by crowd pleaser “Save Room” and “Slow Dance.” “Save Room,” one of John’s most recognizable hits, is stripped pack and less produced, each instrument really taking its own. It is a trend throughout the show, small shifts in each song give the live rendition a new sense of life. With “Slow Dance” John brings a fan on stage for a little shimmy, a humourous moment of the night that displays how connected John is to those in the audience.
A Curtis Mayfield cover comes about next; “Superfly” was playing when John’s baby girl Luna was birthed. The song is paired with “Ordinary People” and “Right by you (For Luna),” continuing with the family trend. As the song plays images of John and his famous family dance across the screen. Opening his personal life in such a visual way is just another way in which John shows great vulnerability. When paired with his songs, which often reflect lyrical content of life at home, this openness is moving and creates a sense of intimacy between John and fans that is truly incredible.
After the sappy emotional end, John ramps up the beat as “Surefire” and “Green Light” stream through. The audience is given enough time to dry their tears and are once again up and out of their seats. The light and flirty songs are followed by “Who Do We Think We Are,” “You & I (Nobody in the World),” and “So High.” John comes back for an encore that includes power single “All of Me” “Glory,” a song written for Selma that is visually paired with images of race division in the United States.
John Legend’s show was explosive and explorative. John lead with a powerful hand as each song brought the audience along a new journey of emotional depth. The bubbly and flirty pop songs where bordered by more sophisticated but still equally corporeal R+B soul songs. As each song took shape audience members fell deeper into Legend’s spell, intoxicatingly lapping at every movement and note. The show was unlike any other, through it John Legend created an atmosphere that was socially and individually conscious. The music was easily enjoyable but also prompted deeper reflection on life and on love, on individual action and corporal dogma. John Legend easily gave one of the most brilliant shows to take place this year, exceeding every expectation of the night.
“I Know Better”
“Tonight (Best You Ever Had)”
“Love Me Now”
“Made to Love”
“Darkness and Light”
“What You Do to Me”
“Used to Love U”
“Save the Night”
“Like I’m Gonna Lose You”
“Wake Up Everybody”
“Right by You (For Luna)”
“Who Do We Think We Are”
“You & I (Nobody in the World)”
“All of Me”
Reviewer: Kylie McCormick