john-legend_web.jpgIlluminated by a single spotlight, John Legend stood on a chair in the exact center of the Hard Rock Live Arena. The crowd erupted, and adulation rained down like so much confetti as he sang Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

As he began to make his way to the stage, the sea of fans parted before him.

I’ve been a John Legend fan since the beginning. I thought I had Legend to myself.  I’d throw a track on when I had company in the car, thinking I was sharing a musical secret with my passenger.

However, after last Thursday night, July 9, I know that John Legend has become a superstar. Dressed in all black, leather racing jacket with the collar popped, he certainly looked the part at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood. His voice filled the arena and his band hit every mark with precision.

John Legend is not just a piano man.  He didn’t even take to the piano until about five songs deep into the set. Instead, he stood front and center, and commanded the evening like the veteran stage performer he is.

About 60 percent of a great arena show is made up of everything that occurs around the performer. The backup singers, the three-piece horn section and the expert lighting and sound helped to round the performance into a well-crafted entertainment experience.

Amid the slick production, Legend showed a deft hand at carrying the crowd through the set. He changed pace masterfully, from a pounding rock rift powered by electric guitar, to a melodic piano-based ballad in an effortless instant. He evoked both genuine emotion and inspired raucous seat dancing.

How Legend closed his set illustrates the point. He began the wind down with the club jam “Greenlight.” In front of a giant LCD screen that played the video,
Legend stood atop his ubiquitous baby grand, raising the energy in the cavernous room to the Nth degree. Then, after a brief costume change to an all white tuxedo, he followed “Greenlight” with the introspective “Ordinary People.” After the out-and-out partying, couples danced slowly between the narrow rows of seats, and the evening was complete.

India.Arie opened the show for Legend, and put on a show equal parts cerebral and light-hearted. Arie introduced herself to those who might not know her catalogue.

Arie is a star in her own right, but I don’t think an arena is conducive to her live show. I would have preferred an intimate setting, where we could be close to her.  The nature of Arie’s music is laid back and introspective. This served to dampen the energy just a tad. However, she did introduce some of us to her musicianship.

She played the flute and guitar expertly, and her big voice filled the arena. There was a very vocal contingent of Arie fans who kept the energy up. As if sensing that the show needed a jolt, Arie donned butterfly wings and sprinted about 50 rows deep into the audience during the song “There’s Hope.”

Arie is good. A big, strong clear voice and an understated stage show make it hard to not vibe with India.Arie. But when compared to the star power of John Legend, Arie seemed like just another opening act. She is a mega star in her own right, but on this night the spotlight shone most brightly on John Legend.

Photo by Sayre Berman. John Legend