I wonder how many more people will spend an evening with John Legend over the next 30 years. He’s only 44, he looks sharp, he sounds faultless, and he’s more than capable of holding a ballroom with his anecdotes, as well as his songs.
You’ve got to imagine that between Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York, with the occasional trip to London, Paris and Rome, Legend will pass many more nights playing the piano, showcasing his voice and reciting various stories from his life.
He really is so ridiculously smooth – the whole evening may as well be slathered in some golden, fat-free, artisan butter, likely churned in the foothills of Montecito. Every word is deliberate, every note is in-tune, at times subtly risqué, at times entirely wholesome. An Evening With John Legend might not be groundbreaking, but it’s not meant to be. It’s an opportunity to get dressed to the nines and drink fizz in comfy chairs while this perfect man does his thing.
He emerges in a gold suit and a white shirt, three or four buttons undone, and plays two songs before the conversation element of the evening begins. “We’re gonna spend this night together,” he purrs, turning on the schmooze, promising we’ll get to know each other, to reflect, to go back in time. Indeed, Legend does go right back to the beginning.
He talks at length about his childhood in the rural Midwest, his Pentecostal church, his homeschooling and the eventual breakdown of his family. These tales are interspersed with more songs and the occasional self-deprecating gag, Legend showing the range of his voice through original music, gospel covers and Stevie Wonders’ ‘Ribbons in the Sky’. In the first of many name-drops Legend laughs that Wonders himself sang the song at his wedding to Chrissy Teigen.
The evening goes for a somewhat early interval at around the 45-minute mark, and when Legend returns, he’s ditched the gold suit and replaced it with a bedazzled black number. Once more, he opens with a pair of songs, including a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes The Sun’, before chatting again, raising the energy and the crowd interaction.
He regales you with the story of how John R. Stephens became John Legend. Quite how much he has boiled it down into this neat script, I’m not sure, but it is a remarkable story nonetheless. From the early days in Ohio to enrolling at UPenn aged 16, to playing the piano on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, to spending three years as a management consultant, to working with Kanye on The College Dropout, to featuring on the works of Jay-Z, Slum Village and Alicia Keys, to, at long last, the release of his debut album, Get Lifted, in late 2004.
Eight Grammy nominations followed, as did the money and notoriety and celebrity friends… then came a certain Ms Teigen, and the transformation into John Legend was complete.
It’s worth saying he can really, really sing. The range is ludicrous. It sounds obvious, but the only slightly disappointing rendition of the evening was a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. It’s just too smooth when Legend sings it, and it doesn’t carry quite the same weight. Attempts to get the audience to sing along to ‘Ordinary People’ fall a little flat, largely because of the sheer inferiority compared to him.
Eventually, with the evening winding down, we came to ‘All Of Me’. Chrissy Teigen was of course in attendance, standing at the front of one of the first-floor balconies, hearing this song for the Lord-knows-how-many-th time as the audience’s attention turned to her. They make a decent double act, and 2.2 billion YouTube views later, their song is probably the definitive romantic ballad of the century to date.
He ended with ‘Nervous’ off his new album, a final little monologue referencing Quincy Jones and what it really means to be cool. Apparently, it’s being yourself in every situation and the confidence and understanding this takes. It’s somewhat ironic, given Legend is so clearly putting on an act, but it’s a very, very good act that requires an awful lot of skill and makes for an enjoyable evening.