John Legend’s second song at Proctors on Friday night was “Tonight.” The chorus, which he repeated at least 20 times, said, “I don’t want to brag, but I’ll be the best you ever had.”
By the 15th time or so, people were laughing, as was he, when he said, “Sometimes you gotta let her know.” It was so over the top that Legend came off humble.
This was the “All of Me” tour, and it was all about him, song after song, story after story. And for most in the packed theater, two hours was not enough.
Legend performed most of the songs alone on piano, as he did with “Let’s Get Lifted,” another vehicle for bragging that he pulled off as endearing: “You'll be screaming my name. ... I’m really going to blow your mind.”
Also with him on stage were a string quartet and a guitarist, who accompanied Legend when he left the piano, as on “Maxine.” Legend sang this pretty, samba-like song with an old-fashioned piano-bar style.
Afterwards, he asked if anyone in the audience had the name “Maxine.” Countless women screamed that they did. He then said his grandmother’s middle name was Maxine, which he learned only after she called to thank him for the song.
He delivered some of his songs like fun show tunes, such as “Caught Up,” “Where Did My Baby Go,” and “Green Light.” The differences were subtle, but noteworthy. He even covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” treating it as a soulful ballad.
One of the highlights of the show was his gospel rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” where he plunged into the tune with an extra degree of abandonment. Before the song, he talked about his musical family and his Pentecostal upbringing.
Legend is a great musician and has exceptional command of his voice and piano. He dominates the stage with brimming confidence. To his credit, there were minimal visuals — no video, no dancers, no movement from the seated musicians — yet he had the uncanny star presence to keep your eyes peeled on him.
Behind the musicians on the stage, as part of a classy set, were 10 audience members seated in comfortable lounge chairs.
“Don’t be jealous,” Legend told us. “For two hours, they can’t use their cellphones or go to the bathroom. ... I want this show to feel like we’re in my living room.”
With that came stories, complete with plenty of name-dropping: Kanye, Usher, Jimmy Fallon, Clive Davis, and so on, each one yielding applause. He brought us through the trajectory of his last 10 years, starting at the University of Pennsylvania, then a job as a corporate consultant — “I spent my day making power points” — to his current status as a Grammy-winning star.
“I dreamed of being right in this spot,” he said.
Before playing his new single, “You and I,” he used “Again,” from his second album, to walk the audience through his song-writing method.
“I started it with these chords, then I wrote a few lyrics,” he explained.
He finished the verse humorously, mumbling words with passion, mocking himself.
He brought the show to its climax with “So High” and “Ordinary People,” returning to the stage for the encore, “All of Me.”
His songs are structured simply, like most pop, but his piano playing was too busy, distracting from the song and even burying the audience sing-alongs (the female-dominated audience sang impressively together).
Legend is a great talent on many fronts, with a natural star presence. With all his strengths and styles, he seems to have a long career ahead of him.