R&B soulster John Legend kicked off the Tower Theater stop on his "Evolver Tour" with gusto. His entrance set the tone for his performance: energized, up-close and personal. He made his spot-lit way down the center aisle in rock-star fashion and invoked his inner Muhammad Ali, slapping palms and raising his fists as video played portraying him as a champion fighter.
Clad in a black leather jacket, gloves and dark shades, Legend bounced on stage Friday and sang an enthusiastic "Hello, Philadelphia" to a sold-out crowd already on its feet. He launched into a booming rendition of "Used To Love U" from his 2004 Grammy-winning debut, Get Lifted.
Then Legend took a seat at the piano and slowed the tempo down by engaging the crowd a bit. Receiving a resounding "Yes!" to his plea for fulfillment, the University of Pennsylvania graduate segued into "Satisfaction" and the end-of-relationship-themed "It's Over," both from his latest release, Evolver.
With a seven-piece band and a trio of background singers, Legend crooned his way through hits like "Get Lifted," "PDA (We Just Don't Care)" and an even-smoother-than-the-original version of "Again," all of which demonstrated what he does best - superb, heartfelt lyrics with dazzling musicality.
His emotional performance of the enduring "Heaven Must Be Like This" put the crowd in visible love mode. For an unhurried version of "Slow Dance," Legend chose a lucky woman to join him onstage for a dance and personal serenade.
He returned to the piano for "This Time," allowing the intensity of his vocals to blend perfectly with the spirit of the song. Legend ended the show with the fast-paced "Greenlight" and transformed the Tower into a big party, complete with handclaps and aisle dancing.
During his two-song encore Legend never ceased to delight. His enthusiastic rendition of "Ordinary People" provided the ideal introduction for his vocal plea for peace on "If You're Out There."
Opener Raphael Saadiq delivered the retro sounds captured on his recent The Way I See It. He soul-clapped his way through "100 Yard Dash" and "Love That Girl" with all the fervor of a Hitsville artist.
Though his attempt to comfort a crowd that may have enjoyed more familiar tunes seemed to fall short at times, the poignant "Big Easy," dedicated to Hurricane Katrina victims, helped soothe with its positive message.