Show Review: John Legend, India.Arie, Vaughn Anthony at The Greek Theater in Berkeley, 9/6/09

by Dakin Hardwick on September 8, 2009

He wants you... He wants you so bad...

He wants you… He wants you so bad…

I’m not really sure why I volunteered to cover John Legend at the Greek. My feelings of him have always been pretty negative. I used to call him things such as “the music John Tesh uses to fall asleep” and “Soul Music’s answer to Yanni.” So, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought I was going to enjoy India.Arie, and then I would sneak out after a few songs, just enough to be able to fake a review…

But I stayed. Why did I stay? First of all, it was one of the best crowds I have ever been in. People were incredibly kind and courteous.  Even when the sprinklers accidentally went off in the lawn, people started laughing while an ingenious member of the audience grabbed a nearby bucket and covered the sprinkler! These are good people. Maintenance eventually turned off the sprinkler, but most everyone was dry by the time this happened.

Vaughn Anthony opened the show with a twenty minute set. He did a passable version of contemporary r&b, closer to R. Kelly than Maxwell. A lot of songs about sex, and he eventually ripped his shirt off, which was the only thing he did to win over any fans in the crowd. It was later revealed by John Legend that Anthony is Legend’s younger brother, which may be the only reason he was booked on the tour.

Ten minutes later, India.Arie took the stage. She started out rather mellow, doing her version of reggae-tinged acoustic soul music. Her songs tended to be more spiritual in nature, not religious, but songs about soul searching and looking within oneself. After about ten minutes of this, she jumped in to her first major hit, “Video,” off the album Acoustic Soul. People were dancing, and singing along. It was the key moment where things moved from recital to concert.

India.Arie is a superb stage performer. She wrote a setlist that flowed nicely. She spent the next portion of the set running through songs off of her excellent new record, Testimony Vol. 2, Love & Politics. It’s an energetic record, and most of the songs are bright and hopeful, which was perfect for performance on a warm Berkeley evening.

Her set was just under an hour long, and it ended with a two songs where she was accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar. Her set ended as if she were the headliner, inviting her entire crew on stage to take a bow, and even letting her mother sing a few notes, showing off a voice that was even more powerful India.Arie’s.

One of the things that made this show so pleasant was the brevity of down-time. Everyone borrowed everyone else’s equipment, with the minor exception on India.Arie using her own drum kit. (Vaughn Anthony & John Legend even shared a backup band.) India.Arie was off the stage at 9 pm. John Legend began his set at 9:15. It was great. Everyone had just enough time to use the restroom and grab another glass of wine. (Beer & liquor weren’t very popular. This was a salad and wine crowd!)

Legend opened the show from the back of the main floor, singing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” His arrangement was closest to Stevie Wonder’s contemplative reading of the song. He slowly walked through the lower level, taking the time to shake hands with as many people in the crowd as possible on his way to the stage.

When Legend reached the stage, he jumped in to a high energy reading of “Used To Love U.” He wore a black suit with a white tie. Very clean and sophisticated. His band wore black slacks and white tank tops, while the back up singers wore the more traditional slinky black dresses. They looked good. There a sense of uniformity that is rarely seen in these days. The band was tight, and everyone on stage worked as a whole.

Legend is known primarily as a pianist, and although there was a baby grand sitting at the center of the stage, he rarely played it, opting to work the crowd with the wireless mike, making sure everyone get equal face time at all ends of the stage. About 2/3 of the way into the show, he pulled a girl out of the crowd to sing to. I believe that she came close to melting on stage. Although I am a heterosexual male, and I think he could have even persuaded me in to a state of swoon.

Before he played his big hit “Green Light,” a woman jumped on stage, gave Legend a quick peck on the cheek, before security quickly moved her off stage. He muttered something along the lines of “Whoa, what was that!?!” before playing a slowed down rendition of the aforementioned song. The stage was coated in green lights, which, reflected against the pure white stone created an amazing green ball with a band inside. He let the song speed up to the more traditional single version, complete with drum solo, and preceded to take off his shirt, so he matched the band, but also made the female segment of the audience a little bit happier.

He walked off the stage, and moments later returned in a traditional fitted suit. He sat down at the piano, and sang his first big hit “Ordinary People.” The audience sang out louder than Legend, prompting him to just play piano for the 5,000+ choir. He played one last song with the full band, while several ladies in the audience lined up to attempt their way on to stage. I couldn’t believe how polite the stage rushers were. Once it became clear that he didn’t want it to happen, the ladies dispersed.

I wasn’t able to secure a copy of the set list, but it seems he’s playing the same set in every city. We did get a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time” early on, but aside from that, this covers everything he played, in the approximate order:

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(She’s So Heavy) (Beatles cover), Everybody Knows, This Time, Green Light. Encore: Ordinary People, If You’re Out There

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