Wednesday, July 06, 2011

John Legend / Sade Concert (updated)

John Legend is in Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles type territory. Didn't miss a note, voice has mad colors and timbres and the piano is an extension of his body. I knew he was talented, but not like that. His pitch control was perfect as was his breath control, his singing technique is flawless even though he uses every Gospel/Blues/R+B lick ever known. He hits notes that sound like they are razorblading his throat, but there is no hoarseness whatsoever afterwards. The musicianship of his band (which included a three piece horn section) was very impressive. And SADE? What? The show is so elegantly designed that even a sartorial retard like me noticed. The idea is to replicate a Film Noir look and feel for the show. This is done by a careful choice of colors that are seen on stage. Noir is generally fimed in black and white and the clothes worn by all the performers in Sade's band reflect this with everyone wearing black, white or some shade of gray. The only exceptions to this are Sade's red lipstick, a red bra she wears under a white gown (3rd costume change) and the red dress she wears for the Encore. Upon reflection I'm impressed at the lengths Sade went to get that austere look. All of the equipment on the stage is either black, white or chrome. Everything looked to be new and shiny and there were no wires, cables or cords visible, no amps, monitors or equipment trunks onstage, no sheet music, charts or music stands, no additional instruments, no food or even water bottles on stage. The stage was completely uncluttered, if musicians weren't playing during a song then they weren't on the stage. When Stuart Matthewman wanted to change guitars for a song, he would go to the side of the stage and get the new axe from a stagehand and hand him the other one. This level of detail could have only happened with a deep commitment by the star, so it's clear that Sade wanted to imprint her personal sense of style on the way everything about the show looked. And is it me or is Lauren Bacall a role model for Sade's sense of style? During every song video and still images were projected on a giant back screen, most of the videos appeared to have been made just for this tour and several of them showed her wearing her hair down with no makeup and in these her freckles were very visible, something she rarely allows. There were 4 costume changes and in every case the stage design and decorations coordinated perfectly with the clothing worn by the band. The band (two guitar players and an electric bass, with a trap set drummer and a percussionist, a piano/keyboard player and two male backup singers) was tighter than Aretha Franklin's skinny jeans, reminding everyone that Sade is a band, not just a person. The show opened with Soldier of Love, a tune that was greatly helped by the fact that the drummer played the groove live (as opposed to the sample used in the recording), make no mistake though, this show uses samples too, for example on tracks where the original recording uses Sade's voice for background vocals and for the orchestral intros that several songs opened with. The concert closed with No Ordinary Love, and Cherish the Day was the encore. The encore also featured a costume change for the entire band with her coming out in a stunning red dress. After the first song, the set list alternated older material with songs from the Soldier of Love album and her latest releases from The Ultimate Collection. Your Love is King was the second song and Sade had some minor pitch problems at the end of a few extended notes which sounded like they were due to improper breath control. She may have been out of breath still from all the dancing she did during Soldier of Love. After the newer songs were done, they did three or four older tunes in a row beginning with Smooth Operator. Any lingering questions I might have had about her musicianship as a singer were answered by her performance of Jezebel. She sat on the side of the stage and with minimal accompaniment (stand up bass, piano, guitar and sax) absolutely crushed the song. Later in the show Pearls was done solo over a track to allow the band a break and a costume change, the stage was empty except for Helen and a mic, a giant white circle was projected against the back screen. It was an excellent visual metaphor for the title of the song and as the song progressed and the lyrics reached the line "The sun gives her no mercy" the color of the circle had changed to a bright yellow, as the song moved into the 2rd verse the color gradually moved through orange as the lyrics hit the phrase "Long as afternoon shadows" into a red sunset color by the start of the 3rd verse and as the song ended the circle sank down into the stage leaving her holding the last notes in total darkness. Paradise and Nothing Can Come Between Us were done as a medley with her singing the vocals for the first part and her backup singers doing the 2nd half while she changed clothes. The band grooved so hard that it wasn't until the end of the song that you realized she was gone. Morning Bird was also a showcase tune for her voice as it was done as a duo with John Hale on piano. This was the most innovative in terms of its staging as the entire song was performed while the stage was covered by a sheer scrim onto which black and white video images of branches were projected. The feeling was as if the performers were in a dark forest, which added to the song's intense loneliness. After those minor pitch issues the first few songs she was in superb voice and effortlessly hit the high note at the end of Is it a Crime. That song was set apart from the others by the use of gorgeous red velvet curtains (or bunting) that hung high on the stage, this was the only use of a color other than black, white or grey in the stage decorations all night. At the Mark Etess Arena in the Taj Mahal Casino where I caught her show, almost the entire audience stood up at the beginning of the song and stood throughout. At various points between songs Sade would address the crowd, for someone who is famously shy and reserved, she was surprisingly at ease and almost gregarious. She very clearly loves performing and appears to genuinely appreciate the love and attention she and the band receive from live audiences. When she told the audience during the banter at the end of the 2nd song that "Your love is King" I completely and totally believed her. Most of the songs were arranged and performed just like they appeared on the albums although there was some improv on a few cuts and a few solos were taken on guitar as opposed to trumpet like the recordings. If you're a fan of her work, do whatever you gotta do to see this show. It was an amazing three hour experience, Sade's performance was very creatively staged by Sophie Muller and one that I'd put in my Top Three concerts ever.
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