As soon as the screen dropped at the front of the stage and a black and white, old-timey video of John Legend lip-synching “The Christmas Song” began to roll, it indicated that this would be the type of traditional musical revue rarely seen anymore.
When the live Legend burst onto the stage with a splash of color – his teal suit – and an elegant set behind him (white, symmetrical Christmas trees, a five-piece band in matching dark suits, three shimmying backup singers and a trio of brass players), the notion of a refined festive engagement was solidified.
Three dates into a tour that runs through the end of December, Legend was supporting “A Legendary Christmas,” his first foray into the easy-money-November-December industry. At the Fox Theatre Tuesday night, Legend showcased why he’s an ideal choice to hit the holiday circuit with his creamy voice, dapper attire and earnestness.
The opening trio of songs – the giddy “What Christmas Means to Me,” a soulfully chugging “Silver Bells” and, with a version of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sign in the background, the Motown-lite “Bring Me Love,” Legend established early that the evening would be a brisk mix of classic and new.
He also, with the arrival of “A Good Night,” confirmed that fans wouldn’t be deprived of other favorites from his catalog.
Legend chatted smoothly with the crowd with patter that seems designed to work in any of the remaining 21 cities on the tour.
“I love Christmas music,” he said, before telling a story about his family’s tradition of opening gifts, playing football (“Yes, I played, too. I wasn’t very good.”) and singing around the piano all night. “I wanted to do a Christmas album because it reminds me of being with my family.”
A month shy of his 40th birthday and with a family of his own, Legend possesses enough maturity to present his new piano ballad, “By Christmas Eve,” with quiet gravitas and also enough self-deprecation to don shades and a red suit for a Ray Charles-lite rendition of “Please Come Home for Christmas.”
Snapping his fingers, swaying his hips and caressing the microphone stand – much to the delight of some ladies in the crowd – Legend sometimes veered into CheeseVille. But there was no questioning the effort installed in the set designs.
Cool video images of 45s from “Johnny Legend” rolled by during “Please…”; the set morphed into 1960s-era Technicolor for “Slow Dance”; and the rollicking “Merry Christmas Baby/Give Love on Christmas Day” – stocked with saxophone and organ – took place at “J.L.’s Juke Joint.”
Legend’s taut band, anchored by his piano playing, injected a jazzy lilt into Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here,” and Legend’s voice sounded particularly potent on it and his Marvin-meets-Nat homage, the original “No Place Like Home.”
There was more from the non-Christmas canon, notably his 2006 hit, “Save Room,” which he sang while sitting atop his piano. But Legend was on a mission to spread some much-needed holiday cheer and accomplished it with old-fashioned class.