BY NICHOLAS PHILLIPS
Tight spectacle, super-tight music and (literally) tight clothing: John Legend's show at the Fabulous Fox Theatre last night was a clinic in suavity. Had this man been any smoother, he would've needed glue just to stay dressed. Which he didn't (i.e., stay dressed).
Due to illness, India.Arie didn't perform, ceding the opener slot to Vaughn Anthony (apparently John Legend's lil' brother), whose impassioned beltings earned him solid applause after a 25-minute set.
But the night belonged to the short and baby-faced Legend, who surprised the crowd by sneaking through darkness from the back up to a platform in mid-center-aisle to open with Bob Marley's "Redemption Song."
With a single guitarist to back him up, and a thousand cell phone cameras blooming around him from a sophisticated, classy-club crowd, Legend's first song spotlighted his greatest asset: a voice that's rich, textured and powerful without being saccharine.
He then swaggered on stage to join a full rhythm section, three-piece horn section and a female back-up trio, with a huge video screen backdrop. Wearing black high-tops, pin-striped pants, and a short-collar jacket + red skinny tie over a white shirt, Legend flowed through several new tracks off his newest album, 2008's Evolver, plus selections from 2004's Get Lifted.
"Alright" and "Magnificent" got a lot of butts out of seats, as Legend threw in some tastefully sparse dance moves. (He also has the habit, when the vocals get virtuosic, to drag an open left hand up and down, as if caressing a flagpole.)
Peeling off jacket and tie, he pulled a girl up on stage to bump and grind with, then offered her a rose. What was even more endearing were those moments when his swagger would give way to a boyish grin - he's obviously thrilled to be doing all this.
He even said as much, telling the crowd at one point he used to watch the Grammys, Star Search, and Michael Jackson (big applause!) and dreamed that one day, he too would be on stage. But he never dreamt, he said, that he'd perform at the inauguration of the first black president (bigger applause!). Subtext: I, John Legend, am a fucking badass.
There was a mellow late-middle section of the show when Legend spent a lot of time tickling the keys of his baby grand Yamaha (serious piano skill being his other great asset). Some of these songs bordered on trippy. He even briefly flirted with a cover of "I Want You" by the Beatles, which his band seemed really into (and the crowd, not so much).
But when, at the end, Legend stripped down to a wife-beater and went into "Green Light," the entire crowd rose up and wiggled. True, the 40-foot video of Andre 3000 dancing his ass off was extremely hard not to watch. But climbing atop his piano, Legend took back the spotlight, took a bow and floated off.
Of course he returned, this time in white jacket, shirt and tie to lay his talents bare with a goosebump-inducing rendition of "Ordinary People." He closed out with "If You're Out There," during which he plugged an anti-poverty non-profit called the "Show Me Campaign" (focused on Tanzania, not Missouri, it turns out).
The coolest moment for me happened before the show, though. Tipped off by a Fox Theatre employee, I lingered in the back, knowing Legend would pop out a door and head up the center aisle.
When he finally emerged, the consummate professional looked...scared -- hunkered down and serious, like a kid who's afraid to jump into a lake, but angrily forces himself to the edge.
When John Legend began to sing, though, that guy was gone.
Setlist Redemption Song (Bob Marley cover) Used to Love U, Satisfaction, It's Over, Alright, Heaven, Quickly, Refuge, Let's Get Lifted, Magnificent, No Other Love, P.D.A., Stay With You, Number One, Save Room, Good Morning, Change for You, I Want You (Beatles cover), Everybody Knows, This Time, Green Light. Encore: Ordinary People, If You're Out There