Does it seem like John Legend is living in La-La land? He and supermodel wife Chrissy Teigen have a 13-month-old daughter. He's collected 10 Grammys, one Oscar and all kinds of huzzahs for being executive producer (and an actor) for last year's beloved movie "La La Land."
However, his fifth and latest album, "Darkness and Light," which was released in December, has received less attention than his current remake of the "Beauty and the Beast" theme song with Ariana Grande.
Like Grande, Legend is not easily deterred. He brought his Darkness and Light Tour to sold-out Northrop auditorium in Minneapolis on Wednesday and headed straight for his new album. Six of the first eight selections were from "D&L," and that wasn't the most savvy strategy for winning over the faithful who were unfamiliar with the new material.
The new album is long on atmospheric minimalism and short on memorable melodies and catchy rhythms. The lyrics of the opening "I Know Better" suggest that Legend, 38, wants to put art before commerce: "They say sing what you know/ But I've sung what they want. Some folks do what they're told/ But, baby, this time I won't."
His fierce determination is admirable, but he couldn't sell "Penthouse Floor," which was neither edgy enough to be distinctive nor funky enough to be danceable. "Love Me Now," a recent single, was a spare tribal celebration without the drama to build effectively.
The new songs were more artsy than soulful, more organic than funky, more embracing than exciting. But often that has been Legend's calling card. With him, the words seem to matter less than his delivery, because this crooning piano man oozes romance. He could sing the phone book and make women swoon; his PG style is warm, caressing and seductive.
Like a Johnny Mathis for the ADD set, Legend finally connected with the crowd on "Like I'm Gonna Lose You," the 2015 Meghan Trainor hit on which he's featured. His velvety voice soared, buoyed by doo-wop harmonies from his three female backup singers. The usually calm and collected, tuxedo-clad singer even got revved up enough to throw down his microphone stand.
Sounding like a buttery Smokey Robinson, Legend had couples cuddling and dancing to 2007's "Slow Dance," even though it included an ad-libbed shot at President Donald Trump's never-ending controversial headlines.
Legend sent a more overt message with his version of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' 1976 soul chestnut "Wake Up Everybody" as images of civil rights struggles were projected on giant screens behind Legend.
At times during the two-hour, 25-song concert, Legend used images on the big screens that were distracting, such as kaleidoscopic designs changing at dizzying speeds. Sometimes, though, the images enhanced the songs, such as "Ordinary People," his 2005 breakthrough hit, with giant faces of everyday people and the new "Right by You (For Luna)" with film clips of Legend's too-cute daughter Luna.
However, gorgeous footage of female ballerinas couldn't salvage "Surefire," a "Darkness and Light" piece that felt more like a soundscape than a song.
There's no question that Legend knows what makes an indelible love song. He covered one — the Beach Boys' 1966 "God Only Knows," done a cappella with a single spotlight on him. With his confident, creamy voice and Tony Asher's simple, sincere words, he gave a performance that took your breath away.
He took to the grand piano for the wedding standard that he penned and recorded (his lone No. 1 pop hit), "All of Me," an encore that, as he'd suggested earlier, might lead to some baby-making after the concert. La-La land, indeed.
Opening the concert was falsetto-loving R&B newcomer Gallant, who seemed preoccupied with performance art.