CLEARWATER — He's smooth, smoldery, old-school. A cool cat, that John Legend. But don't be lulled by all that bedroom talk: With his warm, quavery croon filling a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, the R&B star officially kicked off a wild, hip-hop-centric Super Bowl weekend.
In a not-so-coincidence, the staid Clearwater venue also chose this notable night to start allowing guests to drink alcohol in the hall itself. With shows like these, who needs afterparties?
The crowd of 2,180 was stocked with football stars (and really hot football stars' dates). The Bucs' Ronde Barber bought 20 tickets, and was nice enough to give one to brother Tiki. Cato June was there; John Gilmore, too. Old fave Simeon Rice and the Colts' Gary Brackett had sweet seats themselves.
The 30-year-old Legend sold the night as a big event. As video footage of the singer in a boxing ring flashed behind his hot, handsome 10-piece band, Legend entered from the cheap seats, strutting to the stage to the sound of screams.
Opening with Used to Love U from 2004 debut Get Lifted, and then kicking into Satisfaction from new album, Evolver, Legend blended jazz, soul and — with that Marley-esque yelp — a subtle slice of reggae. He played for almost two hours, his voice contained yet powerful, a lesson in nuance.
"We're going to kick this weekend off right," he purred, seated behind his trademark baby grand piano. "There are a lot of places to be this weekend, but you chose to be with me tonight. I hope we make it worth your while."
As testament to Legend's phenomenal wooing powers, the women continued to swoon even though great chunks of his set list (She Don't Have to Know, Number One) were dedicated to the joys of infidelity.
He never lost the crowd, not even during the night's standout dud, Computer Love, which was accompanied by a sci-fi video that had all the sophistication of Weird Science.
Legend sold it to them as if they still needed convincing, serenading girls in the crowd, pulling one on stage to bump 'n' grind during Slow Dance.
One of the show's highlights was No Other Love, a duet with Grammy-nominated opening act Estelle, the British soulster with the impish smile and comic touch.
Legend closed out his 24-song set with current hit, Green Light, and an encore of the spare Ordinary People and If You're Out There.
At night's end, couples were ready to couple, singles were ready to couple — and everyone was primed for a reeeaaallly long weekend.