It seems fitting that John Legend would begin Friday night’s show at Chastain Park Amphitheatre with “I Know Better,” the first song on his newish “Darkness and Light” album. The song of humility and accountability set the tone for what fans would get for the next hour and 45 minutes – a man reawakened by social consciousness, family, and love.
As Legend sat at his piano on a modest platform, it was his voice that commanded the stage, fortified by the spiritual sounds from an organ uncovering his church-choir foundation. “Darkness and Light” itself is biblical reference of rebirth and discovery. With that said, this was not a take-me-to-church night.
Over the years, Legend has learned to let his soul lead him instead of relying solely on his near perfect voice. The result is an artist who also embraces his sensuality and lightheartedness. Watching his smooth strides to “Penthouse Floor,” was pure fun, bringing fans to their feet to a groove that sticks around long after the music ends.
Much of the set’s first-half focused naturally on songs from “Darkness and Light,” including the whiny and moody “Overload,” which gave spotlight props to the band, particularly his horn and sax trio. But it was the album’s title cut, “Darkness” that showcased Legend’s powerhouse falsetto. His band and backup singers adequately complimented his sexy energy to the song’s Caribbean and African beats. Ditto for the desperate, heart-stirring “Love Me Now.”
But it wasn’t until “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” about 30 minutes in, did Legend really personally engage with fans, giving a shout out to his dad and imploring folks to not take their loved ones for granted.
From there, he told the story of the birth of his baby daughter Luna Simone, who he says came into the world to sounds of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly.” It was fun watching Legend and his band old-school step to the Mayfield classic, which was followed by the socially-conscious “Wake Up Everybody,” a remake from Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes (and lead singer Teddy Pendergrass) that gets a powerful presence onstage with black and white video images from the Jim Crow era.
Still, it’s “older” songs from Legend’s catalogue that grabs sing-along fans out of their seats. The boastful and cocky “Tonight,” from 2013’s “Love in the Future,” along with the “Made to Love” and the popular “Save Room” and “Who do You Think You Are.” It goes without saying that his performance of “Greenlight,” never disappoints, even if it was a slower, melodic version than the album’s.
Earlier in the night, soul singer Gallant opened the show. Despite the fact that he seemed to be just background noise to fans enjoying their friends, food and drinks, the 25-year-old singer songwriter gave a show that would bless an attentive audience. Like Legend, he has impressive vocal and a powerful falsetto. Hopefully, one day it will be universally appreciated.
LISTEN: “I Know Better” by John Legend