Sade and John Legend
Has Staples Center ever before oozed with such love? And not just the gooey, puppy love stuff neither. All the most time-worn of L'Amour's swooning, blushy themes played out Friday, with Sade delivering all love's ups and downs in her impressively dignified and consistent way.
During the dawn of the "Quiet Storm" sound in the early '80s, Sade was never quite as black as Keith Sweat, as jazzy as Al Jarreau, or politically cool as Paul Weller and his Style Council. She was still, however, hip enough to play opposite Bowie in Absolute Beginners. Sade was the cosmopolitan sound somewhere in between with subtle strains of repetitive bass, gentle saxophone, and her soothingly pensive voice. Sade's is woodwind in itself: low, British, restrained and so beautiful on just a few notes she never bothered to fluctuate around to too many others.
Never the typical, flashy big-time pop female performer, Sade Adu retains that easy control over the breezy and blissed-out emotional catharsis she's gently dragging you through, and never flies off the handle like other "divas" whose octave-bouncing, vocal calisthenics pass for showmanship.
Despite the anomaly of her style, or probably because of it, Sade's been asked so many times to do guest spots on hip hop records, its almost an industry joke at this point. True, Sade and the band would supply the perfect bottom-y swagger and chorus to any hip hop track but, alas, she has made it famously clear over the years that her sole profession is singer and songwriter in the band with which she plays. There will be no side gigs, guest spots or samples.
For better or for worse, that means audiences have to deal with the stadium-sized Sade, which comes out gun blazing in all the theatrical glory you'd expect but also brings some glaring drawbacks.
The show opened with last year's comeback hit "Soldier of Love," and its ode to love in the time of post-traumatic-stress-disorder set a badass military vibe. It served as the locus for the re-occurring narrative of Sade as harbinger of a brutal new soul style - with its military march and chunk-a-chunk guitar crunch and everybody wearing utility belts.
But the mixed themes got messy as the evening wore on, especially when syrupy hits like "Your Love is King" were thrown in. Or, even worse, when the band tried to apply the "Soldier of Love" shtick to the old stuff. Case in point, "No Ordinary Love" - 1992's gloriously minimal engineering of just drum machine, bass, and voice - suffered through layers of too-digitized vocal effects and over-noodling by Stuart Matthewman on his distorted guitar.
What came shimmeringly clear through the stylized stadium rock aesthetics was the group's majestic integrity on the intimate, scaled-back songs. 2010's "In Another Time" was played out with the group huddled together at one corner of the stage and was close to the best moment of the evening, next to Sade's slaying of "Pearls" - which she performed alone in a stark spotlight.
John Legend, on the other hand, served up Friday night's happy hour with his hand-claps-over-the-head audience encouragement and effortless soul-singer moves. Legend's Cutie-pie style and Al Green charisma easily translated from the tops of the rafters all the way back down to the floor's industry big wigs.
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Better Than: Toni Braxton, Anita Baker, and what's her name that had that other hit in 1987.
Critical Bias: I've never been ashamed to say I love Sade, even before Jay-Z did.
The Crowd: Almost like waiting in line for Star Search try-outs, expensive watches, lovely cougars, nice smelling fellas, loads of animal print.
Random Notebook Dump: Sade doesn't age & her thick red smack of lipstick and hoop earings will apparently never get old.