Review: Sade and John Legend at the Pepsi Center, 8/11/11

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Sade brings a level of splendor, sophistication and smoldering seductiveness to her work unlike anyone else. While plenty of other vocalists admittedly possess a more expansive range, few carry themselves with the sort of grace and glamor that she makes seem so effortless. At 52, Sade exudes a certain magnetism that belies her years, and her music likewise embodies a certain timelessness despite being distinctively tied to a specific era.

The show opened with flashes of light projected behind translucent sheers evoking a distant thunder storm. An air raid siren set an eerie, ominous tone before gradually giving way to the murmuring horns of "Soldier of Love," when Sade suddenly emerged center stage, ascending through beams of light pouring out from a sunken staircase, while the rest of her band was raised up through the floor on a set of risers behind her, themselves backlit by a fiery red-orange glow, as the martial drumbeat of "Soldier of Love" played.

The backdrop, a time-lapse star field and cloudscape with soldier-like silhouettes projected on the floor-to-ceiling screen, recalled the accompanying video for the song -- makes sense considering the tour director is none other than Sophie Muller, the same Britsh video director with whom Sade has worked with for years on an array of videos, including her latest, "Soldier of Love." The intro set the tone for the entire set perfectly.

Clad in a sheer, form fitting black turtle neck and matching pants and shiny arm bands, with her hair pulled back in her trademark fashion and her large hoop earrings (the first of several outfits she'd don over the course of the evening), the British Nigerian vocalist, Sade Adu, more famously known just her first name, led her namesake band through 22-song set that pulled from more than three decades worth of material.

Over the course of the set, which included obvious favorites like "Smooth Operator," "The Sweetest Taboo," "No Ordinary Love" and "By Your Side," alongside a number of cuts from Soldier of Love, her latest effort, Sade offered up steady handed, expert renditions of the songs, while also switching them up enough here and there to keep things engaging, particularly on songs like "No Ordinary Love," which benefited from notably edgier guitar work and "Smooth Operator," whose signature sax line varied slightly from the version that's been burned into the brain from years of continuous exposure.

While all of the songs tend to be similar in tone, texture and tempo, they didn't blend together as much as you'd think they would have. Credit that to the depth and emotion of Sade's expressive delivery, which provides the necessary shading to transcend any limitations imposed by tonality and tempo. Likewise, Sade succeeded here where so many have tried and ultimately fallen short in making an arena feel less like an arena and much more like a smaller venue. And that's thanks as much to the Baz Halpin, whose highly stylized production relies more on lighting and projections to create ambiance than elaborate props or staging.

From the way the hazy projections on the sheer curtains obscured the band during "Bring Me Home" and "Morning Bird" and conjured a dreamlike state to the way the rear projections coupled with the front projections of the Manhattan skyline during "Cherish the Day" to create a sort of 3D effect, the visuals were highly captivating. And the lighting schemes were equally as affecting, particularly on "Is It a Crime," with the red hues bathing the plush curtains draped from the rafters. The best visuals of the evening, however, came during "Smooth Operator," in which a vivid cityscape served as a backdrop while a faceless narrator intoned in a style worthy of a vintage gumshoe saga, as Sade strolled through a faithful rendering of one of her earliest hits.

Like Sade herself, the whole thing was suitably elegant, and even in its minimalism, it was as arresting as any higher profile grandiose arena rock affair. From the very moment that Sade and company took the stage until the singer offered a personalized introduction to her bandmates -- marveling at each one individually ("he plays guitar smoother than cream in a Twinkee," "he could charm birds out of the trees," "there's more wonder in his hands than the whole of Disneyworld") -- the crowd was transfixed. There seemed to be a shared breathless anticipation and adoration amongst everybody.

Before Sade took the stage, one woman a row over was overheard remarking about how this was a once-in-a-lifetime type show that we may all never get the opportunity to see again. Considering that Sade took a ten year hiatus between albums and the last time she was in Denver was at the beginning of the last decade, that doesn't seem to be that big of a stretch. Either way, this was one show no one is likely to forget anytime soon. -- Dave Herrera


Personal Bias:I've been an enormous fan of Sade since I first heard the "Sweetest Taboo," but had yet to see her until now. By the Way: Sade's last Denver show was two days after 9/11. Random Detail: Despite Sade's large female fan base, it was the guys in the crowd that were the most enthralled (including the dude across from me that kept yelling, "I love you Sade") and doing the most dancing.


Sade - Solidier of Love Tour Pepsi Center - Denver, CO 08/11/11

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 Love Is Stronger Than Pride All About Our Love Paradise Nothing Can Come Between Us Morning Bird King of Sorrow The Sweetest Taboo The Moon and the Sky Pearls No Ordinary Love By Your Side


Cherish the Day

Click through for a full review of John Legend's set from Ru Johnson

While scores of people were still filing into the Pepsi Center, John Legend emerged from the darkness wearing all white, sat down at his piano, and promptly got the party started. Whether you're a fan of John Legend's music or not, there is no denying the man's got soul. His soulful voice filled every nook and crannie of the massive venue, giving an intimate feel to the packed house.

Opening up with the rousing track "Used to Love You," Legend had audience members dancing and swaying to the beat while he wailed on the piano. His three back-up singers clad in nude colored tights and tube tops were an awesome focal point; the beautiful ladies were swaying like the Supremes. The choreography was impeccable and the sexy factor was through the roof.

Legend wasted no time roaring through his set. His voice was warmed to perfect pitch and his chemistry with the band, and his own piano work, kept the fire lit for his whole sixty-minute set. Legend got reflective while singing a new song about love and dreams that was so sweet it could have doubled as a lullaby. He winked and flirted with the audience, and on several occasions flailed around like James Brown. It was awesome. With his soaring popularity in recent years, it's easy to forget a lot of his early hits like "I Can Change," "PDA," and "Slow Dance," all of which he performed with vigor.

For "Slow Dance" he searched the crowd for the perfect lady to dance with, happening upon a very sweet woman named Cecila (it was also her birthday) whom he serenaded and gave a rose. It was definitely the cutest moment of the night. No matter the size of the venue, my favorite part of concerts is when the audience sings the lyrics louder than the artist and with "Ordinary People," while Legend sat poised at the piano (and his gorgeous trio of singers took a break), the crowd became one collective voice during the chorus.

The hits kept coming, from "Everybody Knows" and "If You Leave Me" to "So High," in which Legend recalled his first show in Denver. Mentioning that he sold about "19 tickets that night," he meekly announced to the arena, "we've come a long way, Denver," before taking us all to cloud nine with "So High." A gorgeous blend of vocal stylings and instrument tricks by the band led right into "Green Light," the singer's finale, which he finished from a top his piano while the Pepsi Center turned into a dance floor of happy people.


Personal Bias: I can still play the Get Lifted album front to back, and it came out in late 2004, early 2005. By the Way: John Legend knows how to work that fresh face and charming demeanor. Random Detail: The entire band was wearing khaki pants. I HATE khaki pants.

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