Soul’s woke and witty sex ge­nie charms the crowd

John Leg­end

The Guardian - - THE CRITICS - Hy­dro, Glas­gow Graeme Virtue At First Di­rect Arena, Leeds, Fri­day (box of­fice: 0844-248 1585). Then tour­ing to 20 Septem­ber.

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

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