September 26, 2014
This is already the second time that John Legend has been to Manila for a concert. I had been a fan since hearing his impassioned voice interpreting the extraordinary song "Ordinary People." I do not know why, but it had been a last minute decision to watch this concert. But coming out of it after the show, I don't know why I had doubt about watching this at all. This was the best concert I have been to for a very long time.
The concert started almost an hour later than the time indicated on the ticket which was 8 pm. By 8 pm, the Patron area downstairs, as well as the Lower Box were still quite empty. However, by 9 pm, when the lights finally dimmed down, all the seats were already fully packed and the audience was all ready to hear the main act. Like a few other recent concerts I attended, there had been no front act anymore. I don't know if that is still done nowadays or that is already a passe concert practice.
The spotlight was first trained on stage right, where a string quartet began to play. Then suddenly, spotlight moved to centerstage. A dapper John Legend stepped out dressed nattily in a white suit. After his bows, he sat at his grand piano and began to sing his first song, "Made to Love." With that first song alone, we already knew how great and unique his vocals were as well as his mad piano playing skills. It was a beautiful opening number, which was followed by a new hit "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)". The audience was already singing along at this point.
Before his next song, Legend recounted how he had a lucky break playing piano on one of the songs in classic album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" in 1997. After that though, he claimed to have been rejected by all the record companies, until Kanye West took a chance on him. He had been given backing piano or vocals for bigger acts like Jay-Z or Alicia Keys. Kanye gave John one featured song to sing on the former's concerts. That was "Used to Love U" (VIDEO), which became his first single in 2004. This was also the next song he sang, with the audience made to sing the catchy "holla holla holla" chorus, which was fun.
He sang and played some more songs which were not too familiar with me, but were so awesome to hear for the first time, like "Save the Night" and "Maxine." He gave us a glimpse about his songwriting process via one of the songs from his second album "Again." But a lot of times, he pleasantly surprised me with songs that I already forgot were in his discography, like "PDA" and "Save Room" (VIDEO). These are both wonderful catchy tunes.
He made everyone get up to dance when he sang "Green Light" (VIDEO) one of the rare times he left his piano. He knows his limits as dancer so he does not make any wild moves, just kept everything pretty cool. He followed this up by a great cover version of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You." It felt great to get up and groove to these upbeat songs.
He returned to his piano to sing "Who Do We Think We Are". Then he began to talk about his origins in Ohio, his Pentocostal church upbringing and his musical family. He especially dedicated the next song to his grandmother who taught him to play gospel piano. The song turned out to be his cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and his intense soulful delivery definitely raised not a few goosebumps.
He sang his latest single next "You & I (Nobody in the World)" followed by "Caught Up", as he talked about how he is setting up the perfect date for every couple in there that night with his songs, and we know he is right. The next song was a big one, "Ordinary People" and the audience greeted the first note with pandemonium. This song is simply excellent is all aspects, and hearing it sung live by John Legend, with the audience beautifully singing backup this night was already worth the ticket price. He sang one more anthemic song entitled "So High" before finally bidding the audience goodbye.
Of course, we all know the night is not yet over. How could it be when he had not yet sung the title song of his concert tour, which just so happened to be his first and only Number One song to date. He only played one encore song, and this was the song we were all waiting for: "All Of Me." Words could not describe the depth of emotion we hear in his voice as he was singing this song. Again the audience participation was amazingly perfectly in tune, even making the song sound more beautiful than it did on the CD version.
This concert was all about the incredible singing voice and piano playing of John Legend -- no costume changes, no gimmicks, no elaborate dance numbers. He was breathtaking to hear perform live. He gave his songs an additional edginess we do not hear in the recordings. Now this is what a concert performance should be. I am so glad we were there to imbibe John Legend's passionate soul. This is one of the best pop concerts I ever attended in terms of vocal virtuosity, right up there with Stevie Wonder, Sting and Andrea Bocelli.