John Legend review – soul's starry-eyed charmer imparts irresistible rhythms

Hydro, Glasgow
The velvet-voiced superstar had to work to win over an initially restrained crowd, but over two hours his twirling showmanship earned a rapturous ovation

His beguiling 2016 album Darkness and Light may not have made a dent in the UK charts – it was released, rather bizarrely, amid the retail overload of December – but neo-soul superstar John Legend somehow seems bigger than ever. It is not just because of the 10 Grammys, an extended cameo in La La Land or his best song Oscar in 2015, from Selma. Alongside his wife, model Chrissy Teigen, Legend is one half of social media’s least grating power couple, transmitting witty and woke content to millions of followers worldwide.

As he kicks off the European leg of his world tour in Glasgow more than a few sections of the Hydro’s enormous bowl have been discreetly curtained off, but this intimate set-up feels like it should work in Legend’s favour. If there is an overarching theme to his career – in which he has finessed pop, soul, hip-hop and R&B into alluring new shapes with his limber, creamy voice – it is a desire to connect, spiritually and physically.

Over the course of almost two hours, Legend and his surprisingly mobile 11-piece band thunder through an energised revue filled with verve and movement. Even if it seems to take a very long time for the crowd to match Legend’s prodigious energy, his twirling showmanship never wilts. A passing but pointed reference to “Trump’s bullshit” interpolated into the soul throwback Slow Dance does get an appreciative cheer. He also tells an endearingly rambling story about his role as laptop DJ during the birth of his daughter, Luna, before launching into a cover of the Curtis Mayfield classic that was playing as she was born.

Legend seems to relish his role as sex genie, striving to make bedroom wishes come true with a stream of matchmaker patter to go with his back catalogue of make-out music. But as this slightly overstuffed show swaggers towards its conclusion, it becomes clear that for all the lascivious talk, his true calling is in crafting pedestal pop: those potentially timeless songs that elevate and idolise women. You and I (Nobody in the World) has every couple in the room swaying in tandem, while his encore-launching All of Me – the tender, open-heart ballad that finally knocked Pharrell’s Happy off the US number one spot – is so rapturously received that it retroactively lifts the entire gig.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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