John Legend might be in the midst of a North American tour, but playing music isn’t the only thing on his mind right now. “People are saying some dastardly things about Barack Obama,” says the smooth singing pianist on the phone from his New York home. “It’s scary to hear some of the rhetoric.”
It was just a few months ago that Legend was performing at Obama’s pre-inauguration festivities in Washington, where he told a reporter that “it was great to see millions of people in unity, hopeful and optimistic about the future.” Today, though, he’s worried.
“It feels like there’s an extremist element in America that’s been awakened,” he says. “Part of it is the economy, part of it is a black president and some in the States are concerned that the America they knew is slipping away from them.
“It sounds like they’re truly afraid of him,” he adds. “But his actual policies don’t line-up with what they think he is up to.”
Talking politics is nothing new for the Grammy award winner. He was a big Obama supporter during the 2008 presidential campaign, even opening last year’s Democratic National Convention.
But, despite his activism and support for the current U.S. administration, he won’t be delivering any politically themed messages during his show at Casino Rama in Orillia tomorrow.
“I don’t do a lot of preaching from the stage,” he reveals, adding he does use his Twitter account to keep fans abreast of important issues.
“I like to keep things universal and focus on the music. People come to get away from problems at a show so I don’t want to be to heavy.”
What fans will likely hear at the gig is tunes off Evolver, Legend’s most recent album. The disc is a departure from the artist’s soft neo-soul sounds — it’s more upbeat with electronica flourishes, heavy synth and even some reggae vibes.
This different musical path partly came from a desire to try something new, but Legend also wanted to make his live show more engaging.
“Part of the reason I started going in this direction was because I wanted to add some variety to my show,” he says.
“I wanted to add an urgency to it, so the music is perfect for the live experience, because it adds a lot of depth and energy.”
However, don’t expect a raucous rock show — Legend says the performance is still as intimate as ever. Especially in big arenas, like Madison Square Garden, which he performed at for the first time on August 13.
“It’s a lot of fun doing the big venues because the intensity of the crowd is so powerful,” he explains.
“But we figured out a way musically — the way I connect with the audience — to make it feel intimate. We just break it down and keep it simple.”
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