John Legend’s Love And Benevolences Shines At The Hollywood Bowl The Hollywood Bowl Kicks Off The Concert Season In Grand Style With John Legend
HOLLYWOOD, CA – Summers in Los Angeles just wouldn’t be the same without the Hollywood Bowl. Sure, there are plenty of outdoor concert venues and music festivals in the immediate region, but there’s really nothing like picnicking with your friends under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl while listening to top tier musicians. It’s a uniquely “L.A” experience that’s up there with “going to the beach” or “driving up PCH”, and it’s something that I’ll always urge visiting friends to do if they happen to be in town.
On June 15th, the peerless- and I mean that literally, as he is one of only 15 entertainers ever to have achieved “E.G.O.T.” status- John Legend graced the venerable Hollywood Bowl stage to kick off the Hollywood Bowl’s 98th summer concert season.
It’s amazing to me how high John’s career has risen. It seemed like only yesterday that I was enviously dissecting his a cappella arrangement of Prince’s “One Of Us” for his UPenn Counterparts or having drinks with him when he crashed at the house I was living in during law school the first time he came out to Los Angeles to shop his demos to major labels. I still regret the fact that I wasn’t able to convince the law firm where I was interning at the time to take a meeting with him to potentially work on spec. C’est la vie.
So when I arrived at the Hollywood Bowl, I got this overwhelming sense of nostalgia that kind of swept all over me. Sure, the closest I’ve gotten to John since my twenties has been working on paperwork for a client’s album, but I feel like I’ve been following his journey longer than most, and getting to see him perform on at my favorite venue was a particular treat.
Prior to John taking the stage, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra delighted the crowd with their performance of selections by Rozsa (Waltz from Madame Bovary) and Smetana (“Dance of the Comedians” from The Bartered Bride). The following selections, however, were particularly special as student musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s signature education program, Yoauth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), join the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra to perform Coleridge-Taylor’s “Dance Negre” from African Suite and Saint-Saens “Bacchanale” from Samson et Dalila. YOLA’s appearance on the Hollywood Bowl stage was particularly meaningful insofar as proceeds from the Opening Night would benefit the YOLA program, which has served more than 150,000 children and their families each year. Thomas Wilkin’s concluded the performance by thanking the audience and asked, “When the question is asked of you, who in the world is going to surround our children, to usher them into the future, you’re answer is simply, ‘We’ll do it,’ because it’s in our DNA”
To see the youthful faces of the children wearing their YOLA t-shirts playing sophisticated compositions alongside men and women dressed in tuxes and gowns was inspiring. To see their smiling faces when the music had concluded project on the big screens on the stage’s sides had me grinning from ear to ear. God bless music arts initiatives that give children the chance to experience the joy of classical music.
After a brief intermission, the house lights dimmed and to a roaring applause, John took the stage. Confidently strutting on stage with a slow stroll, wearing a teal tux, sans tie and white tennis shoes, sans socks, you got the feeling that it would be a casually, classy affair. And it was.
Though it may have been lost on some of the older patrons at the show, I absolutely loved that he opened his performance with his portion of DJ Khaled’s single “Higher”. Without having to acknowledge it to the audience, I knew that this was his dedication to Los Angeles. The single features a performance by the late Nipsey Hussle, a musician who was all about bettering and empowering the city from which he grew up: Crenshaw. Off the top, John paid his respects without making it necessarily obvious
“I’ve got a good feeling about tonight,” John said after he finished “Higher”, and the good feelings did indeed continue to flow.
A prominent theme of the evening was “love”. In fact, at one point in early in the evening John affirmed, “Tonight, we’re going to focus on love. Is that all right?” From “A Good Night” to “Love Me Now” to “Again” to Ordinary People” to “All of Me” (which, by the way, had the most in-tune audience sing-a-long that I’ve ever heard), John could sing about love all night love with the songs in his repertoire. But ever the musician, John, who has been known for covering popular songs and making them his own surprised the Hollywood Bowl with two more love songs by The Beach Boys (“God Only Knows”, which he has covered before) and Led Zeppelin (“All My Love”). Love actually manifested itself on the stage when his John’s daughter, Luna, decided to join her father on stage during the performance of “Green Light”. To call that moment cute would be an understatement.
But perhaps the most memorable moments of John’s performance weren’t necessarily centered on the theme of love. For me, the most impactful moments of the evening came when John performed music that was more socially conscious with a message. In a back-to-back moment midway through his set, John performed his last single “Preach” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Those two songs speak to the current times and his passionate performance of them made me want to get up, throw my hands up in the air in piety.
John closed his main set with a rousing performance of Curtis Mayfield’s socially conscience anthem “Move On Up” and then returned to the stage with Common joining him for a performance of the Oscar-winning recording “Glory”, which was made that much more impactful with a glorious fireworks display. It was a finale that induced the few hairs on my neck to stand at attention.
Though I didn’t attend John’s 2014 tribute to Marvin Gaye at the Hollywood Bowl, where he performed What’s Going On in its entirety, I can only imagine what that show was like. Now, I’m imagining John recording his own concept album that speaks to what’s currently going on. A sweeping, and powerful album whose theme centers around the social and political concerns of the present. And I’m imagining John performing that album in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl. I wouldn’t bet against this E.G.O.T.