When an opening act hits the stage of a major tour, the audience usually whines miserably until the headliner graces the stage. John Legend, the opening act for the Alicia Keys ‘Diary Tour’ was the exception.
Legend, whose real name is John Stephens, opened to a nearly full house at the Liacouras Center on Sunday. His set included two back-up singers, a piano, drums and two guitars.
He opened his act with “Get Lifted,” off his album Get Lifted, singing “Let’s get lifted, ooh I’m gonna get you high, I’m really gonna blow your mind.” His smooth falsetto voice remained controlled and perfect as many in the audience screamed.
His calm demeanor mirrored his attire as he was dressed in sky blue shirt with a darker blue jacket, as a white draped set lay in his background.
He also performed a song “about cheating.” The 25-year-old, Ohio native, told the diverse audience that most of his female fans were not so pleased with the lyrics of “She Don’t Have to Know” at first listen, but quickly got used to it.
The singer performed his current single – a ballad called “Ordinary People.” This is one of his many well-written tracks on his album. “Ordinary People” showcased Legend’s voice and illustrated his vocal upbringing in the church – his voice was rich, soulful and brusque, characteristics typical of the gospel genre.
However, by far his best of the night was his closing performance of “So High.”
“So High” written by Legend like all the songs on his album, is a song about love – love that is “blazing.” The songs gave a new meaning to neo-soul – the popular genre that fuses contemporary R&B and sounds of soul music of the 60s; the likes of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.
Keys appeared on stage around 9:30 p.m, wearing a white pantsuit, with a jazz and blues inspired set in her background.
She opened her nearly 90 minute set with “Jane Doe” a song off her first album Songs in A Minor. She performed more than 13 songs from both Songs in A Minor and her current album The Diary of Alicia Keys. All of the songs reflected on R&B sounds from the 60’s and 70’s with little hints of the blues and swing here and there.
The Grammy Award-winner was able to project her highly vocally trained voice to the upper level sections with ease. Each song was sung live and with equal amounts of energy, substance and enthusiasm.
In between sets, Keys’ band played jazz and 1940’s swing music, which was the theme of this version of the ‘Diary Tour.’ Her back-up singers followed suit as they performed renditions of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” with Keys coming in and transitioning into another jazz tune.
One of the best performed of the night, the title track “Diary” was accompanied by a flute solo. The audience not only screamed for Keys, but for her male back-up singer whose vocals and chiseled body wooed the ladies.
Another winner of the night was “Wake Up,” off Diary. The 24-year-old Keys took it back to the 70s with old-school R&B with her version of the Gladys Knight and the Pips’ classic “If I Were Your Woman” in her own “If I Was Your Woman.” Keys’ sultry and soulful soprano voice provided stiff competition for Knight in the original.
She sang, “If I was your woman, here’s what’d I do, I’d never, never, no no, stop loving you.”
The diverse crowd – which included middle-aged men and women, children and college students – got hyped for Keys’ hit song from her first album, “A Woman’s Worth.” It is a song both men and women, could relate to as it called for a man to learn how to treat a woman properly and for woman to find that kind of man.
Keys and Legend will head south next week, to perform at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in the nation’s capital – another chance to prove to the world that they are the next generation of R&B and their talent is here to stay.
Charmie Snetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.