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John Legend: Live at the House of Blues(2005)
Neo-soul sensation John Legend showcases material from his acclaimed "Get Lifted" album in this performance from the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Join the gifted singer/pianist for unforgettable live versions of "Alright," "Number One" featuring Kanye West, "Live It Up," "I Can Change" with Snoop Dogg, "Again," "Ordinary People," "Refuge," and more.
For more about John Legend: Live at the House of Blues and the John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray release, see the John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray Review
John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Sir Terrence, January 15, 2009
The African American church has spit out more talent than any other place that I can think of. Most all of the soul and R&B (and some jazz as well) singers and musicians (myself included on that list) honed our skills in the church, as it is the best proving ground in existence. If you have no talent, you will quickly find out in the church, as there is so much talent there, you would be quickly shoved to the side if you could not hang in there. I do not think there is a singer and musician that I have passively followed more closely than John Legend. When I speak of passively, I mean I just kept running into this young man throughout my career at almost every turn. When I first came in contact with John Stephens (Legend is his stage last name), he was a choir director at a church I was visiting in Springfield Ohio one Sunday morning. I knew there was something special about this young man back then, as he carried himself with such a self assured confidence you just knew he would make something of himself. His gift and talents just oozed out of his pores back then, but I had no idea he would grow into what he is today. The second time I saw him was in 1998 at a concert at the University of Pennsylvania where I was doing a live sound gig. A group named "Counterparts" step up on stage for a set, and doing lead was guess who? John Legend himself. I later found out that Legend was this co-ed a cappella jazz and pop group's musical director. Man had this guy grown musically, as he and his group put on a mind blowing set that had everyone in the audience begging for more. I was so enthralled at what I was seeing; I forgot I was supposed to be working. Nobody that young should be able to write musical charts like this young man did at that age. The next time I saw this young man was at a studio session in Los Angeles where he was on keyboards backing up a well known jazz singer from the Los Angeles. I was engineering the session, and once again, Legend showed not only great keyboard prowess, but I heard him sing for the first time. What a great voice he has. It is big, powerful, full bodied, and clear as a bell. When he gets going, he sounds like a male version of Jennifer Hudson.
One cannot help but make comparisons of one artist against another. When I think of John Legend, I think of a male version of Alicia Keys. He has a similar vocal style to Keys (or vice versa), the same skill on keyboard, but his presentation on stage seems more relaxed and real than hers. He interacts more closely with his audience than she does. However the best comparison I can make to Legend, would be to greats Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cooke, as he is just that good. What set's him apart from all the current crop of young talent is he truly has talent. This is not a put together package with great looks and no talent. He doesn't over sing or over sell a song, he presents it. He doesn't rely heavily on "electronics" for his music, and that is a refreshing change from today's artists. He can sing live and stay in tune and without a lot of accompaniment, as he sounds as good with just a piano and himself as he does with a full band backing him up. His attention to phrasing, dynamics, and diction puts him head and shoulder above most, and his attention to great musical arrangements and not a lot of fluff and air, puts him head and shoulders above the rest. He has a first rate stage presence which just captivates you, whether he is sitting behind a piano singing alone, or strolling around the stage hip hop style while working the crowd. He does not require a huge light show, a plethora of dancers, or fancy clothes to give him his image, his talent and skills are. His music really lends itself to a much more intimate environments rather than large arenas and stadiums. The only distraction I found on this release was the appearance of Kayne West on the cut "Number One". This is just my opinion, he added nothing to this song, and I could have done without him. I really enjoyed Snoop Dogg on "I Can Change" as this brotha is so chilled; I needed a coat to keep from freezing. Legend's band is first rate, with each musician and singer showing the necessary skills to support Legend effectively. What I really love about this concert is you get to hear Legend stripped clean of all of the hip hop heavy handiness that you hear on his first studio album thanks to Kayne West. He gets back to the basics using real musicians, real singers, and acoustical instruments instead of all the electronics that line his studio albums. This concert is 90 minutes of pure pleasure that fans, and non fans would easily enjoy.
The track list includes:
2. Get Lifted"
4. She Don't Have to Know
5. Number One" (featuring Kanye West)
6. Do It Again"
7. Live It Up"
10. I Can Change" (featuring Snoop Dogg)
11. Used To Love You"
13. Ordinary People"
14. So High"
15. Stay With You"
The stand out tracks in this set are the last few songs "Again", "Ordinary People", "So High", "Stay With You", and "Refuge". This concert peaks perfectly with these songs, and ends on a very high note with "Refuge".
John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray, Video Quality
John Legend Live at the House of Blues grooves onto Bluray in a 1080i/MPEG-2 encode, framed in a 1:78:1 video window, that overall is quite good, but not without some small issues that keep it from getting a perfect score. This was Sony/BMG's very first music release, and they did a slam bang job in getting it just right for the Bluray format. Since it was shot using HD cameras, there are no film related issues such as pops, speckles, or grain to dog the presentation. Black levels are very deep and inky, and shadow detail is excellent. Contrast is perfect, as Legend's white suite looks plain white, and not bleached white. Images are always sharp and very detailed, as we can see the sweat from Legends forehead, fine details in everyone's clothes, on instruments, and in the backgrounds of the stage itself. Colors are vivid, well saturated, but I did find some chroma noise in one scene emanating from a single red splash can. It lasted just a second, and most would not even notice it. Reds and Blues are the dominate colors used, but for this live concert there is no fancy light show, waving or dancing strobes, gobo's or splashes, as Legend is the show. There is no compression issues such as micro blocking or pixelation. The one problem that I did find is not compression related, but source related. Either a certain roving camera, or a couple of stationary cameras (I couldn't tell which); I consistently found video noise in low light situations. Even though other cameras were operating under the same lighting conditions, they didn't exhibit this artifact. You also didn't see this same effect using other camera shots in even darker conditions, so it had to be limited to a single, or a couple of cameras. It was noticeable enough to knock the video score down a notch. Overall this was a very good looking release.
John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Sony/BMG gives "Live at the House of Blues" and excellent audio treatment in the form of a terrific sounding uncompressed 5.1 PCM mix at 24/48khz bit and sample rate. Also featured are a lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and a stereo PCM track encoded at 24/48khz bit and sample rate. This is a very tight and well crafted mix, one that was a total pleasure as an audio engineer to listen to. Unlike most of the rock based concerts I have reviewed in the past, vocals here are very well captured, and never drowned out by other elements in the mix. It was the only thing in the center speaker, which allowed me to understand every word of Legends lyrics, and the varying textures of his voice from the soft breathy lows(volume wise), to the growly full bodied crescendos. The piano is well captured, spreading nicely through the frontal sound stage, with the left channel carrying middle C and downward, and the right carrying middle C and upwards. Background vocals are well recorded, and give you the ability to hear the vocal textures of both the alto and soprano singers, without congealing them together as one voice. The B3 sample on the keyboards sounds really convincing, as was the Leslie speaker emulation which revealed a nice tremolo and chorus effect perfectly. The bass was tight, very clean, and often flapped my pant legs with its power. The front sound staging is kept more towards the middle, leaving the edges of the mix to blend with the music pulled into the surrounds. This gives a nice "U" like sound field that I found myself sitting pleasantly in the middle of.
A quick comparison between the Dolby Digital track and the PCM track revealed sound stage differences, with the lossy track sound field sounding a little truncated next to the full bodies rather forward sounding two channel PCM track. The stereo PCM track pulls everything closer to my listening seat, and sounded much like the left and right channels of the multichannel PCM mix.
John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There is not much in the way of extras on this release, but there are some that are exclusive to the Bluray format.
So High Music Video (SD)
Featurette:The Making of "So High" Music Video ( SD-8 minutes)
Alternate Versions of "So High" (exclusive to Blu-ray in HD)
Alternate Versions of "Again" (exclusive to Blu-ray in HD)
Alternate Versions of "Ordinary People" (exclusive to Blu-ray in HD)
John Legend: Live at the House of Blues Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
John Legend is going to have a long career ahead of him, and there is no doubt in my mind on that. He will never be as big as Beyonce or Madonna, but I do not think that is as important as longevity. He writes, sings, and plays, which makes him a self sustaining product of tremendous value. He has only been performing professionally for a little over ten years, but shows the artistic maturity of a person many times his age. Sony/BMG has put together an excellent package featuring this great talent, and it comes as a highly recommended disc for those into soul and R&B. John Legend fans are going to eat this up like it is pâté', I sure in the heck did. Any time you can get me on my feet clapping loudly in my own home theater, you have scored a major entertainment coup. This disc is worth every penny of its twenty dollar price for Legend's performance alone, even if the extras were on the light side. Get it, Get it, Get it!!!!
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