Soul’s woke and witty sex genie charms the crowd
John Legend’s beguiling 2016 album Darkness and Light may not have made a dent in the UK charts (it was released, rather bizarrely, amid the retail overload of December), but the neo-soul superstar somehow seems bigger than ever. It is not just the 10 Grammys, his part in La La Land or his best song Oscar in 2015 for Glory, from Selma. Alongside his wife, the model Chrissy Teigen, Legend is one half of social media’s least grating power couple, transmitting witty and woke content to millions of followers worldwide.
As he kicks off the European leg of his world tour in Glasgow, more than a few sections of the Hydro’s enormous bowl have been discreetly curtained off, but this intimate set-up feels like it should work in Legend’s favour. If there is an overarching theme to a career in which he has finessed pop, soul, hip-hop and R&B into alluring new shapes with his limber, creamy voice, it is a desire to connect.
Over the course of almost two hours, Legend and his 11-piece band thunder through a revue filled with verve and movement. Even if it seems to take a long time for the crowd to match Legend’s prodigious energy, his twirling showmanship never wilts. A passing but pointed reference to “Trump’s bullshit”, interpolated into the soul throwback Slow Dance, does get an appreciative cheer. He also tells an endearingly rambling story about his role as laptop DJ during the birth of his daughter, before launching into a cover of the Curtis Mayfield classic that was playing as she was born.
Legend seems to relish his role as sex genie, striving to make bedroom wishes come true with a stream of matchmaker patter to go with his back catalogue of makeout music. But as this slightly overstuffed show swaggers towards its conclusion, it becomes clear that, for all the lascivious talk, his true calling is in crafting pedestal pop: those potentially timeless songs that elevate and idolise women. You and I (Nobody in the World) has every couple in the room swaying in tandem, while his encorelaunching All of Me – the tender, openheart ballad that finally knocked Pharrell’s Happy off the US number one spot – is so rapturously received that it retroactively lifts the entire gig.
John Legend Andrew MacColl/Rex