John Legend performs at the Santa Barbara Bowl. | Credit: Erick Madrid

Accompanied by an eight-piece band and three backup singers on Thursday, September 16, at the Santa Barbara Bowl, John Legend showed that he belongs right up there alongside such lowercase legends as Sam Cooke, Al Green, and Luther Vandross — as a songwriter, as a musician, and, most of all, as an emotionally riveting, deeply intuitive interpreter of great songs. 

The Bigger Love Tour’s multilevel set gave Legend room to explore a new look and configuration whenever he chose to shift from the dance floor to his natural home in the boudoir. A master of piano-driven pillow talk, Legend had the predominantly female crowd swooning and singing along to all his greatest come-ons, from “PDA” and “Ready to Go” to “Love Me Now” and of course “All of Me.” His taste in covers is impeccable, and after “Feeling Good” went down smoothly, “A Little Help from My Friends” made a great choice for him to bring out Santa Barbara’s own Will Breman, a terrific young singer who landed on Team Legend during season 17 of The Voice. Beyond the utterly persuasive way that Legend told his story from the piano, the night’s most revealing moment came during “Stardust,” a new song written during the pandemic. All in all, it was a deeply satisfying night of soul music outdoors in the moonlight.

Credit: Erick Madrid

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