‘A celebration of love and connection’: John Legend opens his tour with Atlanta date

John Legend brought his Legendary Christmas Tour to the sold out Fox Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.
Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

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John Legend brought his Legendary Christmas Tour to the sold out Fox Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

‘Bigger Love’ tour makes its debut at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain.

Spiritual inspiration fuels John Legend’s creative engine. Signs of faith abound throughout the career of this great-grandson of a preacher. It’s in the title of his 2004 debut (“Lifted”), in his portraying the title role in the 2018 NBC adaptation of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” or indulging a passion for social activism that saw him founding the #FREEAMERICA campaign in 2015 created to change the conversation surrounding criminal justice policies and to end mass incarceration.

Closer to home, it’s also what he heavily leaned on in getting through the recent pandemic, an otherwise challenging time that included the additional heartbreak of wife Chrissy Teigen’s miscarriage of the couple’s third child.

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This image released by NBC shows John Legend as Jesus Christ, center, from the NBC production, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert." Legend was nominated Thursday for an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie. The 70th Emmy Awards will be held on Monday, Sept. 17. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC via AP)

Credit: Virginia Sherwood

This image released by NBC shows John Legend as Jesus Christ, center, from the NBC production, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert." Legend was nominated Thursday for an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie. The 70th Emmy Awards will be held on Monday, Sept. 17.  (Virginia Sherwood/NBC via AP)

Credit: Virginia Sherwood

Combined ShapeCaption
This image released by NBC shows John Legend as Jesus Christ, center, from the NBC production, "Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert." Legend was nominated Thursday for an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie. The 70th Emmy Awards will be held on Monday, Sept. 17. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC via AP)

Credit: Virginia Sherwood

Credit: Virginia Sherwood

“We’ve had some ups and downs as a family and some tragedy,” he recalled in a late August phone interview. “But we’ve also had some beautiful times in rallying around each other, taking care of each other and being with each other and for our kids. That’s been a huge part of the last year. We did a preschool pod — we wanted to make sure our kids had interaction with all their friends and get them schooling at home. We spent more time together than we ever would have any other time pretty much. That was the silver lining — the creativity and family time — for this tough time for everybody.”

As the world slowly starts to reopen in the face of an uptick COVID-19 cases, Legend is finally getting to bring songs from his latest album, “Bigger Love,” to concert audiences following its release in April of this year. The Ohio native completed his seventh studio album shortly after the March 2020 coronavirus lockdown went into effect.

A self-described “...celebration of love, joy, sensuality, hope and resilience, the things that make our culture so beautiful and influential,” this collection of songs is driven by a spirit of collaboration held together by Legend’s ability to bridge old- and new-school musical styles, aided and abetted by executive producer Raphael Saadiq. Highlights include opening cut “Ooh La,” which fuses trap with a sample from the Flamingos’ doo-wop classic “I Only Have Eyes For You”; “I Do,” a sparse yet springy dance jam co-penned by Charlie Puth; and “Remember Us,” a silky duet with rapper Rapsody that rides the groove from Al Green’s “I’m Still In Love With You.” Elsewhere, Saadiq and Legend tapped the talents of guitarist Gary Clark Jr. to lend some of his six-string magic to “Wild.” It all made for the kind of uplifting journey Legend experiences whenever he hits the studio.

“It was really just a joy to make the album — it’s such an exciting and affirming process,” he said. “It’s a process of connection and creativity. I love the collaborations. I think one of my favorite songs on the album is ‘Remember Us’ featuring Rapsody. I just love collaborating with her — the back and forth we had about lyrics, what we wanted the song to say and what her final product was as the verse was just beautiful, emotional and nostalgic. I loved working with Oak Felder. He’s a really phenomenal producer and really helped inspire the core of the album, which I see is ‘Ooh La’ and ‘Actions,’ which is why I wanted to start the album with them. I love working with Oak. He’s on the next album as well.”

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John Legend brings his "Bigger Love" tour to Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastina Park on Sept. 1, 2021. It's the first date of the tour.

Credit: Joe Pugliese

John Legend brings his "Bigger Love" tour to Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastina Park on Sept. 1, 2021. It's the first date of the tour.

Credit: Joe Pugliese

Combined ShapeCaption
John Legend brings his "Bigger Love" tour to Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastina Park on Sept. 1, 2021. It's the first date of the tour.

Credit: Joe Pugliese

Credit: Joe Pugliese

Legend is equally effusive with his praise for Saadiq, who also produced 2018′s “Legendary Christmas” album and is a friend dating back to the two meeting after the release of the former’s 2004 Grammy-winning single “Ordinary People.”

“I’d always been a big fan of [Raphael] in all the different work he did as a solo artist, his work with Tony Toni Tone, with Lucy Pearl and as a producer with D’Angelo and others,” Legend explained. “He’s always been one of my favorite musicians. I met with him after my first album came out and I started working on the next album. We wrote a song called ‘Show Me’ that’s on my ‘Once Again’ album and is one of my favorite songs from that record. We’ve had a connection ever since. He opened for me on tour way back in ‘08. I just love working with him and his great energy. He’s a Mr. Fix-It of music who can do everything. And if he can’t play it, he knows who can.”

The next step for Legend is The Bigger Love Tour, a string of dates set to open in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 1, and slated to run through the late fall. The 42-year-old singer-songwriter will be fronting an 11-piece band and promises to mix in new material with old favorites that he says he hopes will “...still preserve the essence of the original but take it in a different direction.” If you’re expecting a festive mood along the lines of a church revival, you wouldn’t be too far off.

“The show is going to be joyful and a celebration of love and connection,” Legend explained. “We want people to dance and have a good time. The band and arrangements are really beautiful. We’ve had so much fun building this show together. Every time we approach a new tour, we allow ourselves to look at the music anew and give it a fresh look and approach. Some songs will sit closely to what the record sounds like. But sometimes we’ll breathe new life into it, particularly some of the older songs that are fan favorites from albums past. I think overall, it’s going to be a really fun, soulful and joyful night and I think people are going to really feel good when they leave.”

And while “Bigger Love” doesn’t qualify as being a pandemic album given the fact that Clark Jr.’s contributions were the only ones recorded off-site under COVID-19 conditions, Legend and Saadiq were busy working on a yet untitled follow-up. With an already busy schedule that includes his duties as a judge on NBC’s singing competition “The Voice,” Legend hopes to see his next album project released some time in 2022.

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THE VOICE -- "Live Top 17 Results" Episode 1912B -- Pictured: John Legend -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

THE VOICE -- "Live Top 17 Results" Episode 1912B -- Pictured: John Legend -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Combined ShapeCaption
THE VOICE -- "Live Top 17 Results" Episode 1912B -- Pictured: John Legend -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

“I don’t know and don’t like to say when the next record will come out,” he said. “There are a lot of people whose voices are involved in figuring out what the timing is. I’ll just do my job and get the music ready and then we can figure when it’ll come out. [That said], I get joy from making every album. It’s such an exciting and affirming process. It feels really good when you come together with really interesting people and make something new. And I get to do that for a living, so I feel very fortunate.”


MUSIC PREVIEW

John Legend

8 p.m. Sept. 1. $59.50-$132. Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park, 4469 Stella Drive NW, Atlanta. 404-233-2227, livenation.com.