John Legend at Cullen Performance Hall, 5/4/14
photos by Marco Torres
John Legend All Of Me Tour Cullen Performance Hall, University of Houston May 4, 2014
"Gentlemen... I can't guarantee that you're gonna get lucky tonight, but I'm certainly setting you up good!" Those were the words of John Stephens, the singer-songwriter and pianist who has, in a relatively short amount of years, earned the right to personify his stage name: Legend. With a genuine smile, handsome but not overbearing good looks, and a litany of hits, John Legend is as true and real (trill) as anyone can be in today's modern music business. Who else plays his instrument with such intensity and mastery? Who else writes his own songs and produces his own arrangements? If we were to make a list, it would be surprisingly short. His talent is unmistakable, and his appeal unmatched.
Which is why it was such an honor to see his performance at Cullen Hall on the University of Houston campus. Every stop on the "All Of Me" tour was hand-selected to be, as my media pass read, "intimate, acoustic, and stripped down". By performing in venues that hold 3000 people or less, Legend makes the show feel more like a family gathering than a concert. Cullen holds about 1,100 in the lower level, and another 500 on the balcony. By the end of the night, we all felt like the most fortunate people in the entire city.
Once the lights were turned down low, a trio of strings played a prelude of what we would hear during the evening. Mr. Legend himself was lit under a single spotlight in the center of the stage, surrounded by his band and four lucky couples who experienced the show up close and personal. "Who do you guys know to have these great seats?" John asked jokingly. He then took his perch on the piano bench and began the night.
I was definitely impressed with the feel and acoustics of Cullen. The setting was indeed nice and intimate, and the sound was crisp and clear, enough to hear the mallets hitting the strings in the piano as Legend tickled the ivories. This added to the natural feeling of the night, one where the volume, lighting, and views all combined into a lovely music experience.
"Its good to see you, Houston! So wonderful to be back here. I know we are gonna have a great time!" said Legend after offering the first couple of songs. His sense of humor was also on display, as he took lyrics from "Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" and rolled with them. "I don't wanna brag... Well maybe I do. Sometimes you just gotta let her know!" Oh John, you rascal!
He expressed his desire to make us feel as though he was playing a baby grand in our living room, just friends gathered around for some fun. "I wanna get to know you better, Houston!'. Of course that was met with cheers and applause by the very receptive, very enamored audience.
The coolest part of the show were the instances where he provided the insight behind some of his hits and writing process. For his first single, "Used To Love U", he told the story of working and living in New York City, showing up late for a gig and playing at the prime time slot of 4pm. But before all of that, he auditioned for LA Reid and Clive Davis and others, but it wasn't until he met rapper Kanye West that his career did take off. "You have to endure lots of no's before you get a yes" he shared.
The song "Maxine" is one of his most flirty songs, and most interesting bossa novas I've ever heard. Turns out that the name was his grandmother's middle name, although he didn't find that out until after the song was recorded. His other grandmother also inspired his career as she would be the one to first teach Legend the music of the Pentecostal Church which he attended as kid. He then dedicated an emotional version of the standard "Bridge Over Troubled Water" in her memory.
It takes a special artist to make a crowd feel the way we did last night, as if we were all running on the same heartbeat. Sure, other artists will allow their fans to complete the lines of a verse or two, but Legend had complete faith in his audience last night, allowing us to sing full verses as he smiled at the piano. Hearing the whole room sing "Ordinary People" was one of the most magical music moments I've ever experienced. Love, heartbreak, fear, happiness, and triumph were all on display.
As he took a bow and blew kissed into the crowd, the roar of the applause grew louder and louder. There was one song left, and an encore was imminent. Of course that song was "All Of Me". And that's certainly what we received...
Personal Bias: Maybe. Baby. Puffy & Jay Z. Will all be better for you, cuz all I can do is love you.
The Crowd: Well dressed and in love.
Overheard in the crowd: "That boy can sing! Hashtag: Understatement." (yes, someone actually said "hashtag". They probably did the finger gesture, too.)
Random Notebook Dump: So much better than his outing at RodeoHouston.
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