John Stephens may have been reluctant to change his surname to Legend — a moniker bestowed on him in the early 2000s by poet J. Ivy — but it was a prescient alteration. Today, John Legend, as he is known professionally, is a 10-time Grammy winner; his most recent record, Darkness and Light (2016), debuted at 14 on the Billboard 200; and his soulful music has garnered him devotees worldwide. So it was no surprise, then, when fans filled the Santa Barbara Bowl to capacity last Thursday to hear Legend perform.
The show began precisely at 8 p.m. with Legend seated at a piano, teasing out the alluring melody to “I Know Better” from Darkness. The singer and his keys seemed to float in the air thanks to a trick of lighting and a platform riser. It was a fantastic opening to a brilliant two-hour show that saw Legend and his top-notch band grace the audience with 27 tunes from his catalog — plus a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly.” The show clipped along apace, but it never felt rushed; Legend was fully engaged throughout, as he trotted out a playlist that included “Darkness and Light,” “Penthouse Floor,” “What You Do to Me,” “Love Me Now,” and “Ordinary People.”
Legend closed the show with two of his most emotionally rich songs: the soaring ballad “All of Me,” followed by the rousing, call-to-arms “Glory” from the film Selma. It was an incredible night of music presented by a man who has already lived up to his name.