Every once in a while you just know you are in the midst of greatness as it’s unfolding. This summarizes “An Evening With John Legend“, as he played for the sold out crowd in Syracuse at The Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater, June 12, 2014.
John Legend, 2007 Starlight Award recipient from the Song Writers Hall of Fame and a nine time Grammy Award Winning, musician/songwriter/producer, is best known for his collaboration with artists such as Kayne West, Jay Z., Alicia Keyes, Britney Spears, The Roots, Sade, and Lauren Hill to name a few. This multi-talented musician spans genres of R&B, Soul, and Hip Hop crossing over to the pop charts with his recently number one hit “All of Me”. However John Legend has dominated the R&B chart for years with his albums, Get Lifted, Once Again, and Evolver. John is currently touring and promoting his current album Love in the Future which debuted in the Billboard Top 200 at number 4. This album to date has released four hits, “Who Do We Think We Are”, “Made to Love”, “You & I (Nobody in the World)”, and of course the number one hit , “All of Me”.
Just like John’s music, his set was comfortable and intimate with four couches set up behind the string quartet, guitar player, and John’s baby grand piano. Four lucky couples who won their upgraded seats from local radio and television stations, were able to view the entire show from the stage. As John began the show, this intimacy extended even more so to the audience as he shared an amazing history of how he began singing in his grandfather’s church choir at the age of seven. After graduating from high school as his class Salutatorian, John was offered scholarships at such prestigious schools as Harvard, Georgetown, and Morehouse College, however it was the University of Pennsylvania where he further fine tuned his musical knowledge and experience as a side bar to his studies in English and African American Literature. This insight into his course of studies, helped to explain to me his wonderful way with words and songwriting.
From the moment John took the stage, the crowd was truly mesmerized by each number he sang, as they sat on the edge of their seats awaiting the next story, joke, song he shared. As he played hits such as “Made to Love”, “Tonight”, “Maxine”, “Used to Love U”, “Ordinary People” and so many more, the audience sang back, clapped along, and prompted him to continue begging him to not stop. His rendition of “Where Did My Baby Go” with the accompaniment on strings was spectacularly beautiful, while his “Good Morning Love” was as though he was serenading each and every one of us. As he sang “Caught Up” the audience became a part of the song singing along and clapping as though they were part of the show themselves.
During the show John shared a personal story of how he was invited to perform on Jimmy Fallon’s show the week they were honoring Bruce Springsteen. During that show he sang his version of “Dancing In the Dark” hoping at one point and time to hear feedback from Bruce’s team or Bruce himself. He spoke of months going by with no hope of any response either good or bad, when out of the blue he received a call from Bruce’s management personally requesting him to play his version at a tribute for Bruce Springsteen himself. This validation should not have been a surprise to anyone as the rendition was amazingly beautiful. We often see songs remixed time and again to speed ballads up into dance numbers. However to see a fast song slowed down to a ballad tempo was amazingly beautiful as we heard the song with new insight.
It was however his dedication to his grandmother who taught him how to play that moved me the most. Many covers have been done of Simon and Grafunkels’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, however the raw emotion he put into this number brought goosebumps as he sang his resonating melody straight up to heaven for her. One could feel the love and adoration as he sang to her.
As the night came to an end and John left the stage for a moment, the crowd chanted over and over for one more song. As they cheered in anticipation, it was of course the encore they had awaited all night, “All of Me”. This sexy song, seems to touch everyone who hears it as an anthem to love, after all it was written as such for John’s wife, Christine Teigen. As I left the show, these feelings seem to spill out onto those in attendance. Unbeknownst to one unexacting lady, out in the lobby was a surprise orchestrated by her boyfriend who took this opportunity to express his love and propose to her after the show. To paraphrase one comment made by John Legend during the show, “for those men in attendance, I(John) am setting you guys up nicely for a wonderful romantic evening with your ladies. Please don’t ruin it and say something stupid”. That young man didn’t. She said yes. John would be proud.