News Column

John Legend fails to follow own advice - take it slow

November 20, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 20--There are no blurred lines with John Legend.

With his R&B songs, there are no booties, bimbos or bump-and-grinds. He's Mr. Clean -- creamy, dreamy and a little steamy. But always PG and ever so smooth.

The only thing that seemed modern about Legend on Tuesday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis was his sense of timing. With a variety of flowers floating on a video screen behind him, he served up make-out music for couples whose idea of foreplay is only 3 minutes 40 seconds. Like Johnny Mathis for the ADD crowd, he delivered 28 songs in 100 minutes.

The concert felt like, say, the fifth date of a way-cool, highly encouraging relationship that suddenly and unexpectedly turns sour. Your partner seems in a hurry, like he or she is not sensitive to you and your tastes and needs.

For one, Legend's voice -- a wondrously supple and sexy instrument -- was too often too low in the sound mix on Tuesday. Did 2,163 people come to get seduced by bass and drums? The only times when Legend's voice dazzled like on his commendable recordings was when he did solo numbers on the grand piano.

For two, what was the rush? Take it slow, as Legend himself advises on "Ordinary People," his breakthrough hit from 2005. In the first 35 minutes, he cruised through 13 songs, truncating some and never settling into a seductive, cuddly groove with an extended piano passage here or some vocal riffing there, styles he employed earlier in his career. This show was a far cry from the consistently stellar performance Legend gave at the Orpheum Theatre in 2007.

On this year's Made To Love Tour, the 34-year-old, nine-time Grammy winner is focusing on material from this fall's "Love in the Future" album. Among the new tunes, "Caught Up" grabbed listeners with its catchy Beyonce-like chorus, and "All of Me," a recent single, captivated from the get-go -- from Legend's dedicating it to a couple by name in the audience to the lyrics about "your perfect imperfection" to the video showing the singer caressing his lady and ending with their real-life wedding in September.

Now that's what John Legend is all about. His words may be more plain-spoken than poetic but he's so sincere, his delivery so irresistibly romantic. And the seduction is as much in the gentle grooves of the music and the cooing emotion of the vocalizing as in the words themselves.

Legend romanced the crowd with a mid-show solo piano set, starting with the ethereal "Dreams" and the warm embrace of "Good Morning," as his voice glided from baritone to falsetto with hand-holding ease.

Then he displayed his interpretive acumen by turning Bruce Springsteen's pop ditty "Dancing in the Dark" into a melancholy piano piece, complete with vocal riffing at the end. Then came the tour de force, the gorgeous and graceful "Ordinary People," when Legend finally took it nice and slow, creamy and dreamy -- and very steamy.

Opening the concert was reality-TV star Tamar Braxton, the youngest sister of Toni and the other Braxtons. The lip-smacking, hair-tossing bombshell was more entertaining as a diva in training than as an R&B vocalist. She seems to know where her bread is buttered.

Twitter: @JonBream -- 612-673-1719

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(c)2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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