John Legend, Brixton Academy, London

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The Independent Culture

True, the singer has been nurtured by hip-hop's hottest talent Kanye West, who, in turn, was sponsored by the infamous Jay-Z, but the combination of forward-thinking beats and gospel-influenced emoting on breakthrough album Get Lifted is all Legend's work. It set him apart from the nu-soul movement's reactionary styles and allowed him more depth than one-dimensional contenders Mario and Akon.

Despite his success, Legend stuck with a four-piece band that mercifully dropped the saccharine string sections from Lifted's arrangements, to concentrate instead on easy-going rhythms, choppy guitar licks and his own delicate piano skills. Two backing singers were drowned out by an audience eager to provide their own harmonies, and was egged on by a charmingly eager front man.

While established names arrive with the expectation of a fanatical response, Legend was as consummate a worker of the crowd as any fired-up preacher. Half the time he played his grand piano while turned to face the audience. Otherwise, he lolloped across the stage in his own version of Chuck Berry's duck walk.

Though his warm nature was infectious, Legend failed to compel attention over an hour and a half performance. In their stripped down versions, songs came across as insipidly conservative. He stuck to the time-honoured subjects of passion and betrayal, rarely with compelling insight.

On "Used to Love U" and "Ordinary People", Legend showed a knack for updating the theme of love surviving a hard-knock life, though only on new number "Alright" did he sing with any conviction. Elsewhere, he relied on vocal ornamentation to impress us, with a forceful voice and smooth tones reminiscent of Al Green.

Legend padded out his set with an odd set of covers. An insipid "Let's Do It Again" and bland "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" bookmarked a bravely sincere and amusing take on the Rolling Stones' "Miss You". Then support act Estelle, our very own soul saviour, emerged for a duet from her debut album, The 18th Day. "Hey Girl" was more intriguing than the headliner's own compositions, but he steamrollered with ease her less tutored voice. The boy from a devout background may need to work on his material, but church has taught him how to hold an audience.

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