Concert Review

John Legend Brought a Bright, Sexy Lovefest to Arizona Federal Theatre

John Legend owns the stage at Arizona Federal Theatre on Saturday, September 25, 2021.
John Legend owns the stage at Arizona Federal Theatre on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Amy Aranyosi/Golden Light Photography



In the too-cool-for-everything world of music, it's rare to experience an unabashedly earnest show. But that's what we got Saturday night during John Legend's show at Arizona Federal Theatre.

That's not to say that Legend isn't cool. He's cool enough to pull off a pink suit and a green, double-breasted, bell-bottomed leisure suit (both of which he wore Saturday night).

His suits weren't the most colorful thing on stage, though. The concert opened with "Ooh La La," the first track off Legend's 2020 album, Bigger Love, and an eye-popping stage setup: Technicolor flower graphics projected on a screen, a trio of yellow-clad backup singers, and a full band.


We're almost glad that Legend nearly tripped coming down off the platform to the stage after the first song — the tiny gaffe shows that the Ivy League-educated, freakishly handsome, EGOT-winning Legend isn't literally perfect.

When Phoenix New Times spoke with Legend earlier this month, he said that the Bigger Love shows so far had been a "lovefest," and Saturday's concert was no exception. Over the course of 23 songs, Legend's joy for performing radiated out of him, and the audience responded in kind.

The new album was well-represented; about half of Bigger Love's 16 tracks made it into the setlist. The crowd didn't seem to be there just because Legend is Mr. Chrissy Teigen and a judge on The Voice; the number of people singing along with each song showed the audience's appreciation for Legend's catalog going all the way back to 2004's Get Lifted.

Legend moved effortlessly between ballads and beats, between costume changes, between grooving on the microphone and crooning at the piano. On a stage full of people, instruments, and frequently changing, eye-popping backdrops, he never failed to command attention.

Halfway through the show, Legend took the energy down a notch to sit at the piano and share a few memories — how he got his first break playing on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, how he was rejected by dozens of record labels, and how he met Kanye West, who jump-started his career. If we have one quibble with the show, it's that storytime lasted a little too long.

Legend finished his two-hour set with a two-song encore that included "All of Me," his Grammy-winning, wedding-song smash hit. As the familiar tune filled the room and the entire audience (well, everyone who didn't foolishly bolt after "Bigger Love") crooned along, we really were feeling the love.

Setlist:
"Ooh La La"
"I Do"
"One Life"
"Tonight (Best You Ever Had)"
"Penthouse Floor"
"Overload"
"U Move, I Move"
"P.D.A. (We Just Don’t Care)"
"Don't Walk Away"
"Feelin' Good"
"Save Room"
"Remember Us"
"Ordinary People"
"Conversations in the Dark"
"Like I'm Gonna Lose You"
"Green Light"
"Actions"
"Used to Love U"
"Love Me Now"
"Stardust"
"Bigger Love"

Encore:
"All of Me"
"Wild"

The Crowd: This is one of the most diverse audiences I've seen in a while, both racially and in terms of age. Mostly couples, though. Some groups of girlfriends.

Overheard: A man to his girlfriend, who wanted to take selfies together: "I'm not photogenic. I'm better in real life."

Random Notebook Dump: How many babies are going to be conceived later tonight? There's gonna be a lot of kids with the middle name Legend in nine months.
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Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.