John Legend, so his marketing people might have it, does for the classic soul sound what Kanye West has achieved with hip-hop. Drag it kicking and screaming, that is, into a 21st century where the new form of such genres are expected to be simultaneously more literate, more boundary pushing, and more commercially sustainable than ever before.
It's a thankless task, yet one which only a nigh-on monumental artist could achieve with any degree of success. While Legend is not that artist, his whole sound and persona have been carefully manipulated to ensure that he at least stands out from the army of perfunctory R'n'B crooners trying to co-opt the meaning of soul with a bit of ever-so-earnest harmonising. Even his very name seems intended to invoke an air of timelessness, not simply by its meaning, but by that (possibly unintentional) phonetic similarity to the name John Lennon.
Should Legend be of a mind to name his influences, perhaps the tuneful, yet socially conscious 70s-era works of people like What's Going On-period Marvin Gaye might figure near the top. Or maybe it's Gaye the Lothario with whom Legend most identifies.
As in West's case, there's a certain air of care and quality about Legend's music and performance, yet you can't escape the air of bling he presents either. Bouncing on in white trainers, the acid-jazz-bearded Legend's effected maleness is suitably apparent at the start. By the time he plays 'She Don't Have to Know' early in the set, he's boldly stating that, "This is one of my favourites - it's about cheating''.
Despite such peacocking, it's also more than obvious that Legend really does have an amazing soul singer's voice. It moves between a smooth, soothing mixture of tones for the gentler passages, and a deeper, more confidently booming sound for certain rousing choral points. At its best, the effect can be dazzling.
The music often measures up to the excesses of his libidinous vocal, although not always. On occasion, the structure and arrangement of certain tracks resemble more run-of-the-mill R'n'B balladry. Legend is indeed a talent, but not everything he touches is golden.
Not that such a fact would have mattered to the girl who was plucked from the front row to dance with the singer, and walked off with his T-shirt, or those who enjoyed the insufferably catchy 'Save Room', the taut rock gospel of 'Show Me', or the appearance of bolshy diva Estelle for a guest duet of 'More Than Friends'.
Naturally, Legend's signature tune 'Ordinary People' was also a torch song highlight, as he shared its chorus with a full-voiced crowd. Of the two John Legend's in evidence here, the one who inspired such mass devotion was probably more enjoyable than the one who revelled in the personal attention.Reuse content