The King of Romance himself, John Legend, brought everyone out for Date Night 2017 at Santa Barbara Bowl on May 25. The chilly air and Legend’s sexy, soulful grooves kept couples slow dancing and cuddling all night long. With the tragedy of Manchester weighing heavy on everyone’s minds, Legend encouraged us all to share a night filled with love, and hope that we will never have someone taken from us too soon.
Opening the evening was Gallant—young Usher reincarnated! His youthful, bouncy energy coupled with an angelic voice was like nothing I had ever seen before. Accompanied by a drummer, AJ Novak; guitarist, Dylan McGee Jones; and keyboardist, Dani Ivory; he sang a gorgeous duet version of “Episode” with Ivory. A song about love’s transgressions, her voice matched his effortlessly:
“Oh, all your pretty mind wants
Is atoms for my bones and ashes for my thoughts
Oh, should've known you were gonna find out
I knew you'd find out but…
Is it worth the episode?”
When Legend took the stage, it was under a single spot light. He began his set with a softly sung version of “I Know Better,” from his latest album Darkness and Light. A song about staying humble that incited a standing ovation to start the show. He quickly picked up the pace: “Are you ready to go to the penthouse?” Singing the second song from Darkness and Light, the audience began to dance along with John while he grooved on stage under red lights.
His set then took a shift, large light-up panels rotated to frame the stage allowing audience members to see Legend’s three beautiful backup singers, full horn section, keyboardist, drummer, guitarist, and bass player. As the stage opened-up, Legend and his backup singers belted an intense version of “Love Me Now.” As he sang, it was clear there was more emotion behind these meaningful words than ever before.
“I don't know who's gonna kiss you when I'm gone
So I'm gonna love you now, like it's all I have
I know it'll kill me when it's over
I don't wanna think about it, I want you to love me now.”
Half way through his set, Legend invited the audience to leave their seats. “It’s time to Slow Dance, Santa Barbara.” Substituting some of his original lyrics for, “Now politics and Trump’s bull shit ain’t really none of my business,” had the crowd roaring and swaying in unison. During an extended interlude, he offered romantic advice, “I’m setting you up perfectly for the rest of the night (chuckles). Tonight, let’s remember why you fell in love.” He then asked the audience for a volunteer to slow dance and “show ‘em how it’s done.” An ecstatic woman, named Joana, slow danced with John. The audience lost its mind when Legend stripped off his dapper, navy blue, blazer and fell to his knees in front of lovely Joana. He regained his composure then twirled her around the stage until the song ended.
As Joana exited the stage, Legend launched into a story about being dubbed the “Birthroom DJ,” as his wife was in labor on April 14, 2016. He then explained that his daughter, Luna, was born while Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” was playing. Which led to a groovy 70s jam session amongst Legend and his backing band performing their own rendition of “Superfly.”
When Legend returned to the stage, in a new black and grey suit, his grand piano was pushed to center stage and he brought the lights down for the last portion of his set. He ended the set with “So High,” a throwback to his 2004 album Get Lifted. Halfway through the song, his piano stand continued to raise until he peaked at about fifteen feet in the air.
“Let's go to a place only lovers go
To a spot that we've never known
To the top of the clouds we're floating away yeah
Ooh this feels so crazy
Oh this love is blazing
Baby we're so high
Walking on cloud nine.”
As the song ended, he thanked his band members by name and the lights went down. After a little coaxing from the audience, Legend and band returned for a two-song encore. The first was his Hot 100 Chart Topper, “All of Me.” During which, the stage transformed into a starry galaxy. As the lighting shifted, he began his final song “Glory,” while images of war and propaganda splayed across the backdrop of the stage. Legend had us in church while those freedom-filled lyrics were belted loud enough to stir even the least patriotic citizen.
Check out more audience generated photos on CrowdAlbum.
Shelby Pool is an editor and author for the Santa Barbara Bowl Blog.