It’s fitting that John Legend seduced the Seneca Allegany Events Center on the same weekend that his friend/producer Kanye West was booed at Bonnaroo for yet another instance of attention-seeking infantilism, because their collaboration has never failed to provide me with more questions than answers.
Either it’s a “Field of Dreams” scenario in which Legend and the Kardashians can see something in Kanye that the rest of us can’t fathom, or his entire public persona is designed to generate as much publicity, positive or negative, as possible without ever harvesting one grain of his true self.
Arriving at the truth isn’t nearly as important as understanding how the very presence of the question underscores the difference between the two men as artists.
Kanye has always struck me as the Rod Tidwell of the rap game, an obvious talent whose ego and tedious inclination to construct straw men to fuel his productivity have prevented him from securing the universal respect he so desperately desires. He would rather foam at the mouth regarding Shakespeare, Disney and other perceived slights of the day than stay focused and let his music do the talking, which, if you’re at all objective about hip hop, you know isn’t anything groundbreaking to begin with.
Legend, on the other hand, doesn’t require a “Me vs. The World” mentality to create something beautiful.
He just sits down at the piano and derives inspiration from his life, his wife, and his appreciation for the female form in all its byzantine majesty. He’s drawn to women not only from a physical standpoint, but also one of respect for everything that strong women contribute to society at-large. Judging from his lyrics alone, he appears to be a gentle, smooth-talking spirit who would stay up all night discussing his date’s hopes and dreams while still sticking around long enough to make her breakfast in the morning.
Add to that the fact that he once said “all men should be feminists,” and you have further evidence as to how opposed his philosophy to the noxious misogyny heard on Kanye’s “Yeezus” from 2013.
When he arrived on the Seneca Allegany stage, the seduction I mentioned earlier was achieved before a note was ever played. All he had to do was flash the ladies a million-dollar smile and every last one of them was his for the taking.
“Made to Love” and “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” were two elegant compositions that stood out in the early part of the evening, because Legend’s confidence in his own musical repertoire enabled him to perform up to the standard his adopted surname entails. He can crash the keys like Ray Charles, sing falsetto like Smokey Robinson, and craft contemporary R&B melodies to rival anyone currently on the Billboard Hot 100, all the while conducting himself with more class and deference for those who came before him than everyone on that aforementioned list combined.
He took the stadium squall of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and refurbished it into a subdued statement designed to showcase his knack for interpreting the songs of others in the least predictable manner possible. He took “Bridge over Troubled Water,” a gem from Simon and Garfunkel that has been covered by everyone and their grandmother, and made it feel relevant again with a cordial dedication to his own grandmother. He could do no wrong and you better believe he was going to seize every opportunity to bask in the audience’s admiration.
The fact that he even appeared in Salamanca is a coup for the Seneca Gaming Corporation, because the notion of casinos being a place where aging performers ride off into the sunset is a thing of the past.
When Legend closed out the show with “Ordinary People” and his international smash “All of Me,” you got the sense that you were experiencing an artist who is so in-the-moment that stopping to reflect on his legacy wasn’t as pressing as savoring the moment for what it was.
I know summer hasn’t officially begun yet, but the remaining acts on Seneca’s Summer Rush lineup have a tough act to follow.