Hang around the Vegas entertainment scene long enough, you’ll hear legendary stories of legendary artists. Several years ago I learned of a singer in a popular Strip production who had been studying Marvin Gaye, like for hours at a time.
This wasn’t for Gaye’s singing or lyrical delivery, the inspirations for his classic R&B songs. It was how Gaye strode onstage. The singer was absorbing the way Gaye carried himself, how even the most subtle movements and mannerisms captured his audience. Watch and learn, was the idea.
I was never fortunate enough to see Gaye perform, but I remembered that tale on Friday night as John Legend opened his “Love In Las Vegas” show at Zappos Theater. I kept thinking of videos I’d seen of Gaye, many years ago, as I watched Legend confidently navigate this show.
Not surprisingly, in an interview in the theater the following morning, Legend mentioned Gaye as been one of his primary artistic influences. Stevie Wonder is another.
That influence is evident as Legend is simply chill, in no rush, even while his his production has a quick pulse. His show is a great date-night experience, too, the vibe and set list befitting a wedding ceremony (and also the honeymoon).
Legend’s confidence in his storytelling is evident from the top, as the superstar takes us all the way back to his church beginnings for “Used to Love U,” “Heaven,” Get Lifted” Penthouse Floor” and “So High.” He plays a white, grand piano and wears a bright white suit. So impressive, one of the many fashion statements that has some of the guys in Legend’s crowd stalking his designers online.
The setting turns into a street scene as Legend recalls his days at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an English major, and was featured on “Everything Is Everything,” Lauryn Hill. He was also featured on series of songs that jogged the audience’s memories, including “Encore” by Jay-Z, “Selfish,” by Slum Village and “You Don’t Know My Name.”
Legend is backed throughout by a seven-piece band, three singers and eight-member dance team. The will tell you he is not a choreographer, but the production glides along with a sinewy confidence. Those backing dancers, in their tall Afros and sequined, bell-bottom outfits, keep the crowd in a grooving mode.
Legend moves into a warm, casual tale about his grandmother, who taught him to play piano in those church days. “When I sing and play today, you are hearing my grandmother,” he says, then slides into “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the piano, center stage.
Closing with classic Las Vegas staircase, Legend donned a white-fur coat (seemingly pulled from Tiffany Cleaners’ fur-storage vault) and a gleaming, gold suit. In bright red, “Love” was scripted above, with sign designs copped from famous Las Vegas hotel-casinos, Flamingo, Sands, Stardust and Frontier among them. Legend and the ensemble amp the energy for “One Life,” “Bigger Love,” “Green Light” and “Wild.”
There are moments for Legend’s family. He’s shown romancing his wife, Chrissy Teigen, on video, and says, “She’s inspired a lot of good songs. This might be the best.” “All of Me” is that song, leading to crowd to sway and sing along.
Not everyone was swept away, though. The couple’s 3-year-old son, Miles, actually dozed off during the show. Teigen posted photos of the kid wrapped in a blanket in the Zappos Theater VIP section. As is the case throughout Legend’s performance, this number was carefully thought out, executed to perfection.
Bublé faces Foster
When David Foster and Michael Bublé appeared together at Encore Theater in January, Foster was holding Bublé’s video image on his iPhone. The two were FaceTiming during Foster’s show at Wynn Las Vegas. Foster finally set the phone on the piano so he could continue performing.
Saturday, the two FaceTimed once more. But on this night, Bublé was actually in the audience.
Wearing a long-sleeved Roots of Flight T-shirt and skull cap, Bublé might not have look the part of Vegas showman. But the star was in fine voice for, “Feeling Good,” which he sang with Foster at the piano. The crowd roared in what was the finale of Foster’s three-show series at Encore. Bublé opens his six-show run at the Theatre at Resorts World on Wednesday night.
More from the crowd
In his Vegas and touring shows, Foster calls out for audience members who can sing with his backing band. The figure out a song on the spot. The volunteer has 30 seconds to figure out a tune. Foster found Brittagna Giordano, a wonderful singer (most recently with the Vegas band Default Valentine), who summoned “Killing Me Softly,” sung from the aisle next to her seat. Brazenly, Giordano told the band, “Play the Fugees’ version, in E-flat.”
Foster laughed at that odd request and said, “Who are these singers?”
“This is the entertainment capital of the world, you know?” Giordano called back. She then sang a few lines, losing the band, but came back with Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man.”
Giordano killed it, Foster called her “a great singer,” and Giordano posted, “This moment literally changed my life!”
Great Moments in Social Media
Janae Longo, of “Legendary Divas” at the Trop is still the Strip’s favorite (and also, only) Adele. She’s becoming famous across the country, too. On a Reel on Instagram of The Blast media company using a photo of her where she is identified as the actual Adele. The shot appears along with the headline, “Adele Cleans House After Failed Las Vegas Residency.”
To be fair, this can easily happen when tribute artists look a lot like their superstar subjects. No matter. Longo used the opportunity to tell followers to see “Legendary Divas” at the Tropicana.
Cool Hang Alert
Rob Garrett and the King of Diamonds band is performing 5-7 p.m. and 8-10 p.m. on Saturday, at Arizona Charlie’s Decatur’s 34th anniversary. Garrett performs a great Neil Diamond tribute. This all happens at Naughty Ladies Salloon, where we once hung for sets by The Checkmates, in another lifetime. No cover, even as money talks, but it can’t sing and dance, and it can’t walk.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.