NEW YORK — Over the course of his solo career, [artist id="1784962"]John Legend[/artist] has proven to be as refined a singer as any of his R&B contemporaries, from Maxwell to Usher. But with his new collaborative effort with the Roots, Wake Up!, the velvety-smooth Legend showcases more gruff vocals amid the set’s 1960s and ’70s soul-drenched motivational music.
On Thursday night, John Legend’s full range was on display as he worked through his repertoire alongside Philadelphia’s finest at Manhattan’s Terminal 5. The show was the latest installment in American Express’ Unstaged concert series, this one filmed by Spike Lee. The collective marched out onto the stage in New Orleans “second line”-style and settled themselves in front of the backdrop, a massive replica of the Wake Up! album cover, which features Legend and [artist id="775"]the Roots[/artist] in animated form performing on a non-descript block.
Legend dashed through his hits, from the pulsating “Green Light” to the crowd-pleasing “Ordinary People.” Estelle joined the festivities, subbing for Erykah Badu on the Roots’ “You Got Me.” Common and newcomer Melanie Fiona helped Legend bring the crowd to full-on screams with their current single “Wake Up Everybody.”
The Chicago MC was spry on stage, moving from side to side as he recited his lyrics. “It’s the God hour, the morning I wake up,” Com rapped. “Just for the breath of life, I thank my maker/ My mom say I come from hustlers and shakers/ My mom built it on skyscrapers and acres.”
Just when things were heating up, however, Legend pulled the plug an hour into the set, thanking the audience for coming out and quickly exiting to the backstage area. … Moments later, though, the smooth crooner reappeared onstage and his encore drew even louder cheers. An elegant Jennifer Hudson appeared join Legend for a duet, rocking the capacity crowd with her stunning vocals, which were as beautiful as she looked.
Legend closed out the show with “Shine,” a number from Wake Up! that also serves as the lead single to for the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which opened Friday (September 24). “They wait to plead their case, unknown cast aside,” he sang on the moving track. “I love to see their face, can we spare the light/ Are we afraid to see the prisoners of yesterday?/ These beautiful minds, trapped inside/ Bring them back to life, let them shine.”
What do you think of Legend and the Roots’ new album? Let us know in the comments!