“Tonight we’re going to focus on love, Dubai. Is that okay?” John Legend asked the audience as he closed the 25th Dubai Shopping Festival with a performance at the Coca-Cola Arena on Friday, January 31.
That set the tone for a slick, if slightly succinct, show that was all about the feels. Legend rolled out all the classics –including the hits Used to Love U, Stay With You and Ordinary People from his 2004 Grammy Award-winning debut album, Get Lifted. There were plenty of other crowd pleasers, from Tonight (Best You Ever Had) to Penthouse Floor and Green Light, a favourite from his 2008 studio album Evolver. A rendition of You & I (Nobody In the World) was played out against a video of Legend's wife and children. He deviated slightly from his own back catalogue for a rendition of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, before playing his latest song, Conversations in the Dark, on stage for the first time .
The overall performance was as sharp as Legend’s costume, a black-and-white power suit consisting of a double-breasted jacket (worn sans shirt), with accentuated shoulders and shiny buttons, paired with side-striped flared trousers – a look worthy of Prince in his heyday. For someone who has seen him perform in Dubai twice before, Legend proved once again to be a masterful vocalist, musician and performer, flitting between playing the piano and dancing across the stage. His backing singers and band were similarly flawless.
He displayed his trademark charm - inviting a member of the audience to get up on stage with him during Slow Dance (although said audience member, when given the opportunity to introduce herself, explained that she followed Legend's wife Chrissy Teigen on Instagram. "The story of my life," Legend wryly retorted.)
He saved his magnus opus, All of Me, for the encore, before culminating in a heartfelt rendition of Glory, from the film Selma, which earned Legend a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. With black-and-white footage of the film playing in the background, he referenced Martin Luther King Jr's "fight for justice and love", stressing that "this fight continues all around the world, and we won't give up".
Suave, smooth and endlessly uplifting, Legend has clearly developed a tried-and-tested formula that works. He didn’t stray too far from it last night, but, still, much love.