On a chilly Thursday evening in November, people from all across the Rochester area swarmed the Gordon Field House. Normally home to highly energetic events such as track meets and career fairs, the field house was enveloped in an aura of calm. Perhaps this was due to the sheer number of sophisticatedly-dressed people idly chatting while taking their seats. Maybe it was just the cold November wind cooling fiery spirits. Regardless of outside forces, one thing is clear — this is the atmosphere Grammy-winning singer and songwriter, John Legend, brings to a live performance.
While RIT’s recent concerts could be described as controlled chaos with students and adults eagerly shuffling around waiting for the performance to begin, at this show, attendees simply took their seats, intently looking forward towards the stage and awaiting the lights to dim. The stage itself housed only a backdrop and John Legend’s weapon of choice: a piano. The minimalistic feel that the stage embodied, along with the crowd’s unyielding patience, created something not associated with the Gordon Field House — silence. Twenty minutes passed before the announcer finally came on the PA to signal the beginning of the show, which was opened by singer/songwriter Damien Horne.
Horne had only a guitar in his arms as he introduced himself. From the get-go, the Nashville native carried a swagger reminiscent of the musical town. He was upbeat and happy, and his southern drawl complemented the charm, effectively grabbing the audience’s attention.
After his humble introduction, Horne immediately began to rile up the audience as he played a song best described as an ode to his ex-girlfriend. His singing carried the type of homey feel and personal connection an aspiring artist such as Horne wants to convey to his audience. Each guitar strum and tune he sang opened up his heart and showed how he truly felt about the unnamed female. The song was the first of many about ex-girlfriends, but each
was unique in its own respects and expressed his dissatisfaction with the relationships. While he may not have been very successful at those relationships, the outbursts of “I love you Damien Horne” and “You can approach me” definitely proved he won the hearts of the women present.
Despite his repertoire of break-up songs, Horne showed that he has great versatility in song subjects as he sang about Africa’s beauty in the aptly-titled song, “Heart of Africa.” Despite the deep and heavy subject matter, he still managed to keep his “everyday man” appeal intact and as he echoed the lyrics, “There is hope, there is joy in every girl and every boy/who only dreams of being free, that lie deep in the heart of Africa,” tears were guaranteed to fall and rest assured they did.
As Horne finished his last tune, he was rewarded with a standing ovation and cheers of joy. Humble and bashful, Horne bowed and thanked the audience for their attention. The future may be uncertain, but from the crowd’s reaction to Horne’s wonderful performance, he is sure to have a bright one.
Following Horne, there was a brief intermission before the man of the hour arrived on the stage. The crowd, still swooning in musical ecstasy, began to roar as John Legend walked to his piano, smiling and waving to the crowd. As the applause continued, Legend sat and fired a quick strike from the piano keys, silencing the crowd. He continued to warm up, shuffling his hands across the piano and drawing the large audience into his web of sound. After a brief pause, Legend yelled, “Come on, let’s go” and began his sonic symphony. He sang with much fury and tenacity, yet was calm and comforting. He lulled the crowd into a trance and their bodies swayed to every note.
The feeling throughout Legend’s entire performance was very personal. It was only him and his piano on the stage, with a color-changing backdrop to accent the mood. He talked to the audience in a very direct manner and shared information about his past, including the part Oprah played in his garnering national recognition. He then began to play a song he performed on the telethon for the Haiti earthquake relief. Each word captured the tragedy of the disaster and exposed him more and more, but the crowd appreciated the vulnerability, listening intently to his every word and following his every command.
The brief moment of solace became excitement as Legend approached his recent hits. He began with the upbeat and savvy “Green Light,” urging the audience to sing along with him. Lyrics such as “I’m ready to go right now,” bellowed throughout the Gordon Field House. Even the most stoic of men began to bob their heads and swing to Legend’s fierce piano playing. The sing-a-long continued as he played “Everybody Knows” and a new song which was just as soulful and introspective as his others.
A true performer always saves the best for last, and it was no different with Legend, as he began to play the melody for his number one hit “Ordinary People.” Within moments, the crowd burst into cheers and sang along with such energy that it was difficult tell if Legend himself was actually singing. After his last song, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Legend exited the stage only to come back and play two more tunes asan encore.
As the doors to the Field House opened, the audience rushed out glowing with a multitude of emotion. In one evening, we cried, we cheered, we laughed, and we loved. Through singing with his soul and speaking with his heart, Legend managed to take us through a roller coaster of positivity. The once-chilly November wind subsided; and hearts began to burn bright, a feeling truly fitting for an evening with John Legend.