Gig review: John Legend at First Direct Arena, Leeds

John Legend at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
John Legend at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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Tonight sees John Legend’s first visit to Leeds, and although his slick reputation precedes him – much like his band to the stage, sound-tracked by Stevie Wonder’s Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours – he still executes tonight’s show with undeniable confidence, yet with a subtle determination.

Entering through sliding doors at the centre back of the stage, Legend launches into Made To Love, which almost feels like an empty welcome needing filling with songs that are bigger on energy and soul. This is soon remedied as he takes a seat at his piano for Hard Times, pulling off the bluesy number with a laid-back spirit.

It’s during older song, Get Lifted that the pieces of this show begin to fit together. The smoky background paired with Legend’s full live band that allow his smooth, 1950’s style vocals to thrive not unlike the crooners of that era, create an intimate feel as if in a tiny blues club, and not in front of a 13,000 strong crowd packed into an arena. However, moments like Stay With You, featuring some low-key choreography that is carried out so effortlessly, remind said crowd that they’re watching a professional-level show. As Legend sits again at his piano during I Can Change, and raises his hands towards the sky in time with the beat, it’s positive to see a modern R&B artist who really feels and believes in the music he has created.

Mid-way through the show, Legend opts for a costume change. Appearing in a classy white suit jacket and bowtie, he leans nonchalantly against the piano for a rendition of Save Room; ever careful not to let things get too over-zealous as he maintains his air of cool. Please Don’t Go, he announces is a new track – an earnest love song with some enticing piano bass notes in the bridge. It’s a bold move allowing a new song to provide the most sensitive part of the evening, however it works well, possibly because of a personal element people feel they can connect with. In comparison, Ordinary People follows and is welcomingly familiar.

Amongst a cover of What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, as well as Legend’s own version of the Sam Smith song Lay Me Down that he featured on, tonight’s star spends much of the second half of his show sat at his piano, treating his fans to songs such as You & I that sound as if they were written with the purpose of captivating audiences of this size.

After bidding his farewells, Legend returns to the stage for an encore of chart-topper All Of Me, that prompts an incredible moment across the arena as the song reaches its end when a clip of his wedding video is shown. As he voices his real goodbyes during the uplifting final song Glory, he adds “This is my first time in your city! I hope it’s not my last!” It’s safe to say, with a soul like yours, John Legend, Leeds hopes it’s not your last too.

Gig date: July 1