It’s good thing they shoot video of the Tiny Desks, you know?

I thought John Legend would be the first Tiny Desk I saw of a musician whose songs went into the dozens in my collection. Wilco had visited, but I’d been out of town. Turned out, John Legend would not be that Tiny Desk for me. His Tiny Desk would be the first I’d attended of a musician whose songs went into the dozens in my collection. Seeing wasn’t meant to be:


But the concert sounded sweet from behind the crown, and when it went online this weekend, the performance indeed lived up to my hopes.

Off to play some albums now. Getting my bearings on his new one.

The Tiny Desk has been a bit crowded recently

At left, barely, is the top of John Legend’s head. That’s a guess. Great set from the first Tiny Desk performer for whom I own multiple albums. Didn’t see a bit of it, though. Just heard sweet sounds from behind the masses.

A week later, an equal crowd from Neko Case, who, again, I couldn’t see. But I did see someone who was probably on keyboard. And their dog ran around our floor before the show. Even crowded, Tiny Desk are never bad.

Songs to save a world destined to die

Photo from Lori. My close-up of the inscription.

The most moving musical experience I had this spring was seeing the Kennedy Center’s celebration of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album. The Post had a good preview of the pair of concerts, and I snagged two of the last tickets for the first night. The tickets were a little pricey, but we received much more than our money’s worth.

One of my favorite singers, John Legend, was the star of the night, but he shared the spotlight initially with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. They ran through a set of Marvin/Tammi duets that suffered from an over-amplified mix but shined when the orchestration got quiet. If I Can Build My Whole World Around You won big for me. (DCist too.) The album of the night arrived in the second set, with the National Symphony Orchestra joining the Dap-Kings. Toward the end, Jones rejoined and the kids of the Duke Ellington School’s show choir sang back-up.

Coming and going throughout the night were award-winning teen slam poets, every one of whom won over the audience with their work. And they were working. Words stacked, paced and delivered with great strength, alternating power and beauty to bring their messages best. No announcer introduced them. They simply walked on stage, and the hall quieted to listen.

The Post review said the show packed in too much and put too many people on stage, and it was probably right. At one point, there must have been more than a 100 people on stage. The orchestra and the Dap-Kings were collectively too much and too loud in the mix.

But the review also said the show had an award-show feel, and I disagreed with that take. Just as there were no introductions for the teen slam poets, there was no introduction for Legend, either. He walked out, and the show began. Even when there were the 100-plus on stage, the lack of narration made it clear we weren’t there to honor them. We and they were both there to honor the album and carry it forward.

The album as a living document, that goal of the night was well met.

The duets brought the pop introduction that Gaye himself gave listeners for years leading to What’s Going On. The young poets brought his themes to modern times and gave them a venue that in the past only belonged to the greatest long-dead composers. Legend honored the pauses and switches that make the album a great album, not just a collection of great songs. The night itself was a cumulation of a “What’s Going On… Now” campaign that got teens talking and writing remixes around the album’s ideas.

Maybe so many people shouldn’t have been up there, but you would have had a tough time trying to keep them off. The audience was there for similar reasons, to carry the album forward, through current days and into future years, and would have accepted a full march onto the stage.

On the album, in my mind, the loveliest, scariest line comes midway through, closing the alternatingly sung and spoken Save the Children. “Who’s willing to try,” asks Gaye, to “save a world that is destined to die?” He doesn’t pause the music there, segueing immediately into the next song. But later, in the album’s final track change, Gaye makes a hard break. The string-filled prayer of Wholy Holy dies down. The instant of silence strikes you first as innocent. Then come the introductory piano and chime hits, sparse. They build into the hidden but riot-ready heat of Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). “God knows where we’re headed” is that song’s last clear line before a musical breakdown and a benedictory reprise of the title theme.

The album was a challenge to its listeners. But amid all the concert noise at the Kennedy Center, the album also answered a challenge the building itself put forth, to grow opportunities and create a respected civilization. If we accepted the album as a living document, we still had time.

Legend and The Roots covering Springsteen well

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I’m a big fan of both John Legend and Bruce Springsteen. When the two collide, I have to post.

It’s cool to see Legend covering Springsteen as part of Jimmy Fallon’s Bruce week. The week has already given us the definitive-so-far take on Wrecking Ball. Now Legend and The Roots cover Dancing in the Dark.

Everyone covers Dancing in the Dark and Atlantic City. If you’ve never recorded a cover of either song, just wait for it. The latter encourages more creativity, and rock, folk and country types all like digging in. The former has more issues. It’s hard to be creative with something that’s so well known in a certain beat and mood. Just in my own (relatively limited) concert experience, I’ve found Mat Kearney does Dancing well. Eleanor Friedberger has trouble with it. Pete Yorn, I go back and forth.

While I have a pro-Legend bias, I haven’t loved much of his work with The Roots. They do good work together, but their collaborations never feel nearly as strong and original as their work apart. This Springsteen cover, though, I like it. It’s not overly ambitious on the front, to crib a drink or code term. But the rendition manages to bring a different feel to the back half of the sound and, in doing so, the song. The mood’s a soulful elevator. After you step in, you find yourself enjoying the ride.

Song of the week: ‘Rolling in the Deep’ cover

Tonight was the first night off from life in a while. Beyond the calendar, my day-to-day and overall role at work are both changing some, and taxes have been complicated than usual. I’m pretty happy with things, but I need to find better pacing. So, via Casey, here’s what I’ve been playing on repeat the last few mornings to get the days going. Adele’s the artist I most regret missing at the Tiny Desk, so add John Legend…

John Legend – Rolling in the Deep (Adele Cover) by johnlegend

The cover is more exciting than anything on Legend’s last album, with The Roots, and I give that light criticism as a big fan of his. The album (of covers) could have used more of the bold choices this take brings.

A cappella in parts, gospel in others, raw set against a smooth crowd, heaven looking down. Roll your soul through every open door, indeed.

John Legend is Bruce Springsteen, and they both hate Twitter

Sony digital media team, way to expose yourselves.

I’d wondered whether the Springsteen camp would use actually use @springsteen after taking it from a quality-tweeting and clearly-not-impersonating fan. The camp impressed me some in June by managing a few tweets. While viewers knew it wasn’t Bruce — fans with common sense instantly ruled that out — the feed made no first-person claims.

But we learned today through a screw-up that it’s not even the Bruce camp doing the tweeting. This afternoon brought a fresh tweet, “The pre-sale for my added Honolulu show starts tomorrow…come and see us! Password: Evolver” and I immediately clicked. Springsteen in Honolulu? I’d never been to Hawaii, and Bruce would’ve been a great excuse to go. The short link, however, brought viewers to the pre-sale for John Legend’s Honolulu show. I clicked around TM’s site to see if there was a different pre-sale and the link was mistaken.

But no. @springsteen immediately updated, “Sorry folks…please ignore that…I’m not coming to Hawaii soon…!” and deleted the mistake tweet.

A slightly different version appeared  in Legend’s first-person Twitter three minutes later. Sony #fail. While I’m a huge fan of both artists, I was disappointed and not surprised. The Bruce pre-delete screencap: