Fans streaming inside the doors of Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater on Friday night (April 22) were greeted by signs stationed outside that read: “Please be advised that we encourage guests to stand up during the performance.” But once the curtains rose on the opening night of John Legend’s first residency, “Love in Las Vegas,” that extra coaching really wasn’t needed.
For the next two hours, Legend held the full house in his hands as they danced, screamed (“All right, Big John!”) and aah-ed their way through a generous set encompassing the multiple Grammy winner’s seven-album catalog of hits and fan faves. Complementing all of this: colorful sets as well as a few other surprises.
Here are five memorable moments that still resonate the morning after.
Back to the Future
The show opened with a video vignette featuring a young Black male playing piano in a church as an older woman’s voiceover intones, “Never forget where you come from.” Next are scenes featuring Legend portraying himself in various Los Angeles club settings, hanging out with the ladies as Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” plays in the background. At one point, a worn-out Legend falls asleep and dreams he’s a child again back in church… that’s when the theater curtain opens on a church motif with a seven-piece band and three female background singers (draped in sparkling, bell-sleeved robes) flanking a tall platform atop which four similarly draped “angels” are dancing. Below them, a white-suited Legend stands at a white piano (aka pulpit) and softly sings the words “Come on and go with me/ there’s something cool for you to see” before jubilantly launching into the phrase “Holla, holla, holla” — the opening refrain from his hit “Used to Love U” — to audience screams. He also went on to perform “Heaven,” “Get Lifted,” “Penthouse Floor” and “So High.”
With a neighborhood street scene as the backdrop, Legend took the audience to very beginnings of his career in 1998. While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, “dreaming about being onstage,” a friend helped him get his first professional session gig playing on a song, Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything.” While it took six years from that point for him to get a record deal, in between he racked up additional credits as an “unknown.” A “guy” he met from Chicago (Kanye West) got him the opportunity to sing background on Jay-Z’s “Encore.” He later sang backing vocals on Slum Village’s “Selfish.” He also sang the doo-wop ooh’s on Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name” (“Yes, that was me, too”), which he winningly demonstrated while accompanying himself on piano.
In between performing additional crowd pleasers such as “Tonight (Best You Ever Had),” “Save Room,” “Overload” and “P.D.A. (We Just Don’t Care),” Legend showcased the illuminating depth of his vocalizing and musicianship with a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Alone onstage, sitting at a black piano, Legend reflected on growing up in his grandfather’s Springfield, Ohio, Pentecostal church where he begged to at 5 years old to sing in the choir and learned how to play gospel on the piano from his grandmother. “When I sing and play today, you’re hearing my grandmother; I wish she could have seen all this that she inspired,” he said before dedicating “Water” to her. The soaring clarity and love in his vocals, together with the spirituality of his playing, drew a fitting standing ovation.
Legend’s rendering of “Bridge” provided the perfect segue into his own classic, “Ordinary People.” Noting that the song was originally supposed to be for the Black Eyed Peas, Legend talked about noodling around with the track and lyrics during and after a studio session with Peas’ member will.i.am before finally pinning down how and what he wanted to say. Hearing him perform this song live — his emotive tenor exquisitely capturing the angst, pain, joy and perseverance of love — is worth the price of admission alone.
All of Him
Against an art deco backdrop of brightly neon-lit flowers, a heart, and the word love in script emblazoned above the stage, a gold-garbed Legend and crew upped the ante with an energizing dance suite featuring “One Life,” “Bigger Love” and “Green Light” that had the whole theater on its feet. Before closing with “Wild,” there was no way Legend could leave without performing his other signature song “All of Me.” Dedicating the song to his wife Chrissy Teigen (who has a cameo in another video that played earlier in the show), Legend noted — as camera phones popped up across the room — “She’s inspired a lot of songs… this is probably the best one.”
Legend’s “Love in Las Vegas” returns Saturday (April 23), followed by additional dates before month’s end (27, 29 and 30). Three dates in May (4, 6 and 7) round out his first run with a series of more dates slated for August and October.