While the man in the lackluster tan business suit in the section to the left of me, about six or seven rows ahead, hopped in place in Madison Square Garden with flailing hands raised, rejoicing praises, you couldn’t help but to feel all the love filling the room like the presence of a supernatural deity. John Legend’s NY stop for the Darkness And Light tour on Wednesday (June 28) was anything but the former, yet flooded with the latter.
The Pennsylvania Plaza venue was the last stop for the first half of the tour, before changing scenery and heading to Essence Festival. His opener, Gallant (né Christopher Gallant) made a solid roar of his own before the “All Of Me” artist graced the Madison Theater. Jumping and gyrating across the stage, the Maryland native was able to maintain impeccable breath control. So much so, that my friend and I questioned whether he was receiving assistance from the pre-laced vocals on tracks like “Weight In Gold.”
For the more sensual and enchanting songs like “Bone + Tissue” the stage was illuminated with red lights. But for songs like “Episode,” that would appeal to the masses, regardless of genre preference, vibrant purple hues were plentiful, while pulsing white lights added just enough theatric stimulus to match the beat of the drums.
“There aren’t too many American artists like him, he’s a role model. We seemed like we were on the same page when we first met.” —Gallant
Just as suddenly as Gallant entered and owned the stage with his energy and velvety vocals—whilst slapping his crimson blazer across the floor of the stage a few times—it was just as instantaneous that he left us craving more. While some chose to flow in and out of their seats during Gallant’s set, not because of a spiritless performance, but to prepare themselves for Mr. Legend with drinks, discussion, and mingling, the room was unwavering upon the suspense of the musician’s entry.
Just as JAY-Z’s “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is…)” cleared the airwaves during intermission, Legend’s silky smooth vocals laced the now cheer-filled aura of the Theater. When he finally appeared in what seemed to emulate a spotlighted eclipse, the suspense dropped and we all relieved ourselves with roars, cheers, applause, waving hands and whatever other forms of adoration leapt out of the limbs of our bodies.
John Legend is infectious; his virus of choice is love. The Madison Square Garden, and obviously the Darkness And Light album, is limpid proof of that.
Later in the show, he would boast his appreciation for the NYC crowd because he “felt so much love tonight,” in addition to telling us that he wanted to be the “best [performer] we ever had,” amid presenting his fourth studio album hit.
The entire ensemble that brought Legend’s fifth studio album to life radiated love and transferred it to the audience. During the Ohio native’s renditioned ballad of he and Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” he put on a guise of guidance. Instructing those who were with loved ones to say “I love you,” and encouraging a refrain from transferring intense compassion for the first daters, with the exception of a few, there was not one single human being who wasn’t swaying, enraptured in the embrace of a lover.
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Throughout the duration of the song, the audience could see how much Legend felt every word he belted and every stroke of the drums from the physical reaction his body had to each one of them. The drums vibrated, hitting him like a shot in the chest as his body collapsed with each strike, while his own thoughts translated to lyrics made him tremble and throw his mic stand as a powerful release of passion. Deflecting to the audience, turning the energy into roars and cheers, fueled the pianist to jump atop his percussion instrument, causing a revival during “Save Room.” Some time amidst the performance, he was back on his rightful throne, whisping away at the keys as a drop of sweat gracefully fell on his piano.
A few moments later, John Legend would be singing “Wake Up Everybody” from his collaborative album of a similar title with The Roots. Surprisingly enough, nearly everyone sat back down. Throughout the show, most stood for the undeniable hits and fast-paced tunes, while sitting during the more downtempo ones. With the rhythm of the song being a comfortable medium between the two extremes and understanding Legend’s ties to equality and social issues, it was odd to view all his fans, except for the eight people I was able to see, plastered to their seats. Images of ‘For White Only’ signs and gun barrels faced at the heads of black men wearing ‘I am a man’ signs around their necks were displayed on the four-part partitioned screen behind the Darkness And Light headliner. That alone was magnetic enough to pull me out of my seat compelling me to stand upward.
Possibly, that much was done on purpose—maybe this was the darkness that hid behind the light. Filling the air back up with love, Legend sung to the spirits of his wife and daughter with “Right By You” and “You & I,” as visuals of a tiny Luna crawling across the hardwood floors of their home and her tiny hands grazing over decorated flowers and acorns filled the screens. During what can be best described as his mellifluous love note to Chrissy, he briefed his head towards us with a sly smile, as he sung “you don’t have to try,” as if a thought of something his wife did or her radiant presence, which left the screen and permeated the room, crossed his mind.
Perhaps one of the most breathtaking parts of the night was “So High.” Legend sung the enchanting melody, as the soft pink clouds in his backdrop slowly drifted to mellow oranges, then to white, as the partitions departed ways. He and his piano ascended with the movement of the clouds and partitions as if floating to Heaven, the home of cloud nine. Just before singing the last “high,” the “Penthouse” artist belted out a gloriously extended “so” as the scenery blacked out and a circular reflection of him and his mic were the only things visible bringing his “let’s go to the moon, baby” verse alive.
From the interpretive ballet performance blown up on the screen behind Legend as he performed “Surefire,” to slowly stretching out his arms to either side of him as he sung out “let go, give in, let go, give up,” Legend spread and transferred his virus around the entire scope of the MSG Theater.
He became one with the crowd. He made us feel the love that radiates through his moves and his harmonies as he brought audience member, Sydney on stage to “Slow Dance” with him and allowed the crowd a solo on the hook for “All Of Me.” Shortly after, he told us collectively, “you sound beautiful,” even though we thought the sentiment was meant for each of us, individually.
Fighting off any darkness that may have survived Legend’s poison, he finishes the night with his brightest performance yet with “Glory.” Bringing forth images of strife inflicted on the black race with the March On Washington and a present-day image of a young boy wearing a shirt that reads the plea of “stop killing us,” Legend transfers his contagion across time periods. Combating the ones who didn’t stand during “Wake Up Everybody,” the stage blinded us with piercing white and yellow flashing lights forcing us to wake up, eliminating the five percent of darkness that may have been left in the room.
The love that John Roger Stephens experiences everyday with family, friends, strangers, in his music, or via any other possible source, travels from mind to pen to voice to piano and finds a home in whomever his soulful tunes touch. If you were in the Theater at MSG Wednesday night (June 28) and you lost hope in love, never had it, or forgot what it feels like, John Legend infected you with it. No matter if you entered the room with issues, inflictions or heavy weights on your shoulders, the tour was proof that in Darkness and Light, love prevails.