Sade at US Airways Center, 9-2-11

Sade and John Legend U.S. Airways Center Friday, September 2, 2011


Sade (the woman, not the band) doesn't seem like she has to work very hard live. If there's ever an audience willing to plunk down $149 for the good seats, load up on $25 glossy programs, posters, t-shirts, and memorabilia -- it's Sade's.

Sade's style breeds fanatical fans who are prepared to enjoy her every move, who have waited 10 years since her last appearance in town. When you see people walking to their seats with tote bags stuffed with keepsakes to remember the show, even before a note has been played, you know folks are expecting a memorable evening.

Sade's music is defined by a certain type of smooth subtlety, so it's not like anyone is assuming there will be vocal fireworks, wild acrobatics or the drummer spinning in a globe over the stage or anything.

And even though Sade (the band, and the woman) aren't in the business of being flashy, the show at U.S. Airways Center seemed focused on making sure that the audience went home feeling satisfied, providing a highly professional show, starting with an extended opening set from John Legend, who had a full band with him working mostly a medley style set of a verse and chorus of fifteen of his songs, plus part of "Rolling in the Deep".

With the intro riff of "Soldier of Love" pumping through the arena's system, the elevator-assisted band rising from underneath the stage, and Sade (back to the singer) in all black, with her hair tied tightly back in a low ponytail, the large digital screen projected images from her videos cleverly behind the group and they began working their way through twenty two songs of their 27 years of accumulated greatest hits.

The core of the band, which has been with Sade the woman from the beginning was never flashy, but always wildly proficient, managing to make their early material which verges on smooth jazz still seem cool and sensual, with precise musicianship and singing driving the entire night. Each track gave one member of the group an opportunity to shine, generally sax man Stuart Matthewman, but occasionally, Sade broke out of her deep aesthetic of cool to remind everyone that she can still really sing at age fifty-plus, closing out "Jezebel" with a pause before unleashing a long perfect closing note.

As someone who spends far more time at low-budget, get-in-the-van, indie shows, the professionalism of the entire affair was definitely appreciated. Sade changed outfits while the show still rolled on, using a sheer curtain occasionally covering the stage to provide an extra layer of visuals. They played everything any fan of hers would want to hear, and Legend was given a chance to play nearly a headlining set of his own. There wasn't the chill of a group bored with what they do for a living, even on the second-to-last night of a long North American tour, possibly just because they don't just don't tour that often. Sade took a moment before the encore to personally introduce each band member, curtsying to each of them after sharing an anecdote about their history together.

When the single song encore "Cherish the Day" wrapped up, and the group disappeared for the last time into the stage, and while Sade (the woman) never appeared showy or trying to extend herself to the limits of her performance abilities, no one could complain that they were robbed of a song they waited ten years to hear or that they didn't see something special this Friday night. Personal Bias: After dragging my 80's R&B loving wife to a number of shows that she rarely was too thrilled about, this was one show she was incredibly thrilled to attend, at least making up for some of my past selfish concert choice sins.

The Crowd: Largely the "grown-and-sexy" contingent, although there was one dude in a Owl City t-shirt getting down when the camera swept the audience.

Overheard in the Crowd: One guy was really determined to try to get a personal reaction from Sade (the woman) resorting to yelling "HEEELLLLLLEEEEEEN" at one point. Listen, pal, she's an official Dame courtesy the queen. Maybe she doesn't need to give you out of tens of thousands of people a special wave. Random Notebook Dump: Is it a little weird that people are yelling and clapping in the middle of a song about a dying woman in Somalia ("Pearls")?


John Legend:

Rolling in the Deep Hard Times Used to Love U Alright Dreams (new song) Get Lifted Slow Dance PDA (We Just Don't Care) Save Room I Can Change I'll Go Crazy (James Brown cover) Everybody Knows Ordinary People Cloud 9 Green Light

Sade: Soldier of Love Your Love is King Skin Kiss of Life Love is Found In Another Time Smooth Operator Jezebel Bring Me Home Is It a Crime? Love Is Stronger Than Pride All About Our Love Paradise Nothing Can Come Between Us Morning Bird King of Sorrow Sweetest Taboo The Moon and the Sky Pearls No Ordinary Love By Your Side

Cherish the Day (encore)

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.