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:


15 albums

Jeremy gave the following preamble on Facebook, and I liked it: “I dutifully ignore most of these Facebook lists, in which you get tagged in someone else’s and are therefore obligated to make your own, but this one sounded kinda fun. So the challenge is to list 15 albums that changed your life, most impacted you or whatever …  I’m limiting mine to officially released material only because otherwise this would be a list of 15 Bruce Springsteen recordings unavailable in stores.” My list:

1. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
2. Darkness of the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen
3. Kids in Philly, Marah
4. A Legendary Performer Vol. 2, Elvis Presley
5. Gold, CCR
6. Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen
7. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco
8. Summerteeth, Wilco
9. Pneumonia, Whiskeytown
10. Get Lifted, John Legend
11. Greatest Hits, John Denver
12. Joshua Tree, U2
13. My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello
14. Pet Sounds, Beach Boys
15. West Side Story soundtrack

If you want to fight, each one is easily explainable, and I know karate.

Most difficult cuts: Demolition, The River (but you know The River is fine without you), James Brown 20 All-Time Greatest Hits, Chronicle, The ’59 Sound (I’m guessing it’ll stick), Songs for Swingin’ Lovers, Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall, Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight.

Learn to read it like a book

Slate this week had a spring poem for the fall, and it paired well with a fall poem the site ran in the spring. The spring one — the fall one that ran in the spring — had been sitting in my favorites since then, waiting for a reason or an excuse. There’ve been those moments recently, in Namesake when the wife learns of death and turns on all the lights in the house, on The Office with the missed calls standing alone to close, inside iTunes with the solitary Prelude to John Legend’s first album, and the better moments where you remember what a prelude can be.

Spring for a fall: “Acorns.” Fall for a spring: “Spring Comes to Ohio.”

Thank you to the big man in the Bullets jacket

Filling up his PT Cruiser at the neighboring gas pump up the street and playing John Legend’s Get Lifted album as he did. Consider the world of music in cars. Only a certain percentage have the windows down. Only a certain percentage of that percentage have the volume loud enough for people outside the windows to hear. Now of that new number, how often is someone playing an album instead of the radio or a shuffle? How often is that album one you recognize? How often is that album you recognize from the open windows of the neighboring car an album you like? An album you enjoy on a mediocre day. Times is hard and things are a-changing / I pray to God that we can remain the same….

Ah! … oh

–The psychic on Lee Highway appeared to have closed down. The signage ripped from the hanging frames on the porch made you wonder if the psychic had gone under — never saw too much action as you drove by — had sold the place or, more likely, lost the lease. Unable to forget the Mr. Belvedere commercial that aired for years on WTTG, where Mr. Belvedere pushes Wesley’s face into the chocolate cake, you wondered — you’re prone to wondering — if the psychic had seen it coming.

But then I turned to my left, and the psychic had apparently moved to new digs across the street, complete with new neon signs.

–The always ridiculous newsletter highlighted “British rock star Shakin’ Stevens” who was totally unfamiliar to me. If I’m interpreting his Wikipedia entry correctly, he was the Robbie Williams of the ’80s. Or something. Anyway, the newsletter reported Shakin’s new album had a performance of a song called Fire Down Below, “which Jerry Scheff wrote for Elvis.” And I thought, could this be the Silver Bullet Bob song? The prostitution-based potato chip crunch between the Night Moves wheat bread, the Sun-drenched cheese, and the Come to Poppa feeling of biting through the plate? (Mainstreet is air and you know it.) How good would an Elvis version have been?

But then I checked out the album, and Seger’s song was Seger’s own. I read the newsletter story again and found a link to the Shakin’ song. It was … not my taste. It was an undercooked Burning Love, and Springsteen’s Fire remained the greatest fire-related song written with Elvis hopes but never recorded. (Related, ’86 Bridge School or Darkness tour version? I transpose the two and that’s probably a good thing.)

–MySpace spam. You know the name, but you don’t. Over too quickly.

And my brain is out. It was nice to hear Majic 102.3 pull out John Legend’s Another Again on the drive home after softball tonight. On the album, the wistfulness of the neighboring songs take it to a much sadder place than where it lives on its own. No lyrical findings here, just enjoyed this twist versus the rest.