Music Review

John Legend brings chops and charm

John Legend was backed by a string quartet and a guitar-bass-drums combo at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Saturday night.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
John Legend was backed by a string quartet and a guitar-bass-drums combo at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Saturday night.

A few songs into his set at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Saturday night, John Legend took the audience on a trip to the past. Sitting at his piano, he chatted about the earliest days of his music career, illustrating its lengthy path with snippets of songs that he had worked on before his 2004 signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label — Lauryn Hill’s “Everything Is Everything’’ and Alicia Keys’s “You Don’t Know My Name,’’ among others. Ten years after releasing his solo debut, he’s a chart-topping Grammy-winner who’s a staple of televised music events, his performances displaying how he’s equal parts chops and charm.

Legend is a master piano player with a velvety voice, a combination that results in him being able to deliver an icy knife to the back like the cheating-heart callout “Maxine” as smoothly as he does more seduction-minded tracks like “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” or “Save Room.’’ His vocals were expertly calibrated throughout his set, with the biggest notes providing just as much emotional wallop as the moments when he dropped to a whisper, and his backing musicians — a string quartet and a guitar-bass-drums combo — fleshed out tracks like the insistent “Green Light’’ and the ode to breathers “Caught Up.’’ And his trio of covers showed how his seductive, confident soul was influenced not just by his church-
organist grandmother, who taught him how to play piano when he was a kid back in Ohio, but also by pop’s marquee names: the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel specifically. His take on the Fab Four’s “Something" was particularly lovely, with the strings doubling the original’s affecting harmonies.

Shortly before the night ended, Legend noted that he had set the stage for anyone in the audience on dates to have an extra-pleasant evening. He drove that point home with his final song, “All of Me,’’ the stark ballad off his 2013 album “Love in the Future” that earlier this year became his first Hot 100 No. 1. The plainly stated affirmation of love received a commercial boost after a powerhouse performance during the Grammys in January. On Saturday Legend performed the track solo, his voice and piano commanding the spotlight as listeners snuggled into their companions while mouthing the uxorious lyrics — a triumphant ending to a night that told a story of tenacity and talent winning out, thanks to a little help from love.


Maura K. Johnston can be reached at