Concert review: Sade with John Legend at Amway Center, Orlando

click to enlarge John Legend - TRACY MAY
Tracy May
John Legend

Opening with Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" was a pretty bold move, but R&B superstar John Legend pulled it off with the grace befitting his talent and backed by a band composed of a three-piece horn section, bass and lead guitars, drums, a keyboard set-up that would've made Stevie Wonder drool, and three backing vocalists all clad in some seriously tight outfits. Legend wore in his trademark white t-shirt and vest.

He jumped from playing grand piano to wandering back and forth across the stage, encouraging the ladies in the audience to stand up and be seen. One very lucky one, Gabriel, was treated to the serenade of a lifetime when Legend sang "Slow Dance" directly to her while on bended knee.

Legend returned to the piano for another crowd pleaser "PDA (We Just Don't Care)." It didn't take long to notice the effect on the crowd — couples were dancing in the aisles, nuzzling each other in their seats, and obviously taking John's suggestion about PDA to heart.

I heard several lust-dripping declarations of "Oh, John" from one particular fan. I think she was a little more titillated by the experience than the rest of us ... but that's okay, it was John Legend.

If the crowd wasn't already enraptured before, after Legend launched into "Ordinary People," he had them eating out of his hand and singing along like they'd all had a hand in writing the song.

At the end of the set, during "Ready to Go," Legend invited the entire arena to "stand up and dance with me," which they promptly did. But John did them one better and hopped onto the grand piano to complete the song from there.

This wasn't a run-of-the-mill opening set. John Legend certainly thanked Sade Adu for inviting him to be on the tour, but you don't reach star status by giving half-assed performances, and Sunday night Mr. Legend gave the Amway crowd a full measure of R&B devotion.

The evening was off to a pretty decent start with Legend kicking things off, but we were waiting for Miss Adu to hit the stage and about 20 minutes later, she and the band named for her, Sade, did.

***

It's no big secret that the music industry is a fickle beast. Here today, gone tomorrow seems to be the order of business. Once the public forgets about you and isn't anticipating your next big hit, it's generally over for you. Your No. 1 spot gets filled by the next rising star and you become, as I've heard it said lately, "culturally irrelevant." Ugh... I hate that phrase, but there it is.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and this year's is Sade Adu. A self imposed 10-year hiatus from recording seems to only have brightened her flame. And Sunday night we were all moths clambering toward that blazing light.

Rising from the floor of the stage, bathed in a white spotlight, Sade open the show with the title track off her band's new 2011 release, Soldier of Love. Behind her, a video screen was filled with silhouettes of soldiers and the flames of love and war.

At this point, I was back at the soundboard with a few other photographers, attempting to capture a handful of images, but the entire crowd was standing, hands in the air, screaming. (Hence the shots you see at right.) Oh, well, so much for the photos.

No one bothered to sit after that, and it was on to "Your Love is King" as the crowd continued their frenzied adulation.

The mini-movie/cut scene seems to be very popular in concerts these days; even Sade has resorted to using it. Theirs was filled with film noirish images, psuedo-gangster talk about dames and saxes. But it was really just the opening visuals for the band's biggest hit, "Smooth Operator." Certainly they offered a new take on a sexy 80s classic ... or maybe I just don't remember the original video very well. But Adu was rocking the threads she preferred from that era — black pants suit and vest, long sleeved white collared shirt (looking very good I might add) — and the rest of the musicians were similarly decked out. It was an entire stage of full of smooth operators.

The production values were insane. Each song was staged as if it were a video shoot. Every move was choreographed and perfectly executed. There were moments when I'd look up at the video display and think
that I was actually watching a pre-recorded video. Nope, it was all live and all incredibly beautiful.

My favorite moment of the show was hearing Sade Adu sing "Is It a Crime." This has always been my favorite Sade song, the one ingrained into my musical soul. The band took to their risers while Adu, the sax and guitarists remained on the stage. The raspy chorus poured out of her as if she'd just had her heart broken yesterday and was singing to get her man back. The crowd responded with much enthusiasm and there was no doubt that Sade Adu was feeling the love at Amway.

But she wasn't about to slow down and just bask in the afterglow. The next few songs had her standing behind a curtain-turned-video screen. Gone was the pony tail and black pants suit, and in its place wore a flowing white dress, her hair falling at her shoulders. And then she got sexy, replacing the flowing white dress with a form-fitting white sequined dress that would've looked at home on any pageant contestant. It was difficult not to stare.

After dazzling the crowd for the better part of two hours, Adu introduced her band. But instead of just leaving the stage, she had one more song in store for Orlando.

Sade closed the show with "Cherish the Day," Adu ending the evening on a platform that rose 20 feet off the ground. A very fitting end to the show, as the crowd's spirits were at least that high after a night with these performers.

Sade's Orlando setlist:

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
Stronger Than Pride
All About Our Love
Paradise

Morning Bird
King of Sorrow
Sweetest Taboo
Moon And Sky
Pearls
No Ordinary Love
By Your Side
Cherish The Day

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