News Column

REVIEW: Legend sets mood in sold-out show

June 6, 2014

By Kristen Gaydos, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.



June 06--John Legend's smooth, elegant voice got people in the mood to slow dance during a soulful, stirring performance Thursday.

Backed by a guitarist and a string quartet of two violins, cello and viola, Legend accompanied himself on piano during a sold-out, polished and intimate set at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre. Audience members waiting to return to their seats in the packed house clung to each other and danced to "Everybody Knows," a single from his 2008 album "Evolver."

The nine-time Grammy-winning musician returned to Northeastern Pennsylvania, a place that's part of his musical heritage before he achieved international success. Legend served as music director for Bethel AME Church in Scranton starting in 1995, driving up from Philadelphia where he attended the University of Pennsylvania.

"It's good to be back in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It's been a long time," Legend said to shouts of "We love you!"

"You feel all right? I'm feeling good. I'm in a good mood tonight," he continued.

The singer-songwriter performed Thursday in support of his fourth studio album, 2013's "Love In The Future," which reached 18 on the Billboard 200 Chart and peaked at 2 on the Top R&B/HipHop Albums chart. Legend produced the record with longtime collaborators Kanye West and Dave Tozer, and it includes his first number-one gold single, "All of Me."

Smoke drifted through beams of light as Legend emerged center stage in a tuxedo, to the audience's approval. He started the night with a song from the album, "Made to Love," before rewinding back to his earlier albums.

Several women got close up to the performer, seated on couches onstage. Legend advised the rest of the audience not to be jealous, as "they can't use their phones the entire time... can't use the bathroom, either."

He turned the night passionate with the sultry "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" from 2012's "Think Like a Man" movie soundtrack.

"I don't want to brag, but I'll be the best you ever had," he sang, adding, "I don't want to brag, Wilkes-Barre. Or maybe I do. Sometimes you gotta let her know."

Legend took the audience on a chronological tour of his best works, starting with "Let's Get Lifted" from his 2004 debut album "Get Lifted." He recalled his former life, trying to make it big, working as a management consultant designing Powerpoint slideshows and making spreadsheets.

"Very sexy work," he said.

But when he caught the attention of Kanye West, he got to perform with him as an opening act for Usher in 2004. West let him sing one song, and while Legend asked the audience to sing with him, no one knew the words.

"I'm going to make up for that in Wilkes-Barre," he said, asking the audience to sing along with "Used to Love U," the debut single from that album that hit 1 on the Top R&B/HipHop Albums chart.

"You're welcome to sing along with future songs. Are you ready for that responsibility?" he asked.

Legend went on to his 2006 platinum album "Once Again" for a saucy rendition of "Maxine," about seeing his woman out with another guy. He said he drew inspiration for that song from Nancy Wilson's "Guess Who I Saw Today." After he picked out the girl's name for his song, he said he found out it was his grandmother's middle name.

"She didn't even mind that Maxine's doing dirt in that song," he said.

During "Again," he gave the audience insight to his songwriting process, saying he writes the riffs first and then gibberish over the music for a while.

"I usually don't have the words until the very end," he said.

Legend treated the audience to a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," a song he first performed on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." He said he waited to hear what Springsteen thought of their slow, smooth version, but heard nothing until the music icon asked him to perform it for the MusiCares charity show when Springsteen was named "Person of the Year."

"So I said, 'Phew! He liked it," Legend said.

Legend also covered Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" before moving into hits from "Love In The Future." Based on the applause and calls of approval from the audience, Legend might have to make it through a crowd of adoring fans before he makes it back onto the tour bus.

kgaydos@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2118

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Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)