John Legend (né Stephens) doesn’t need a nickname—neither did Alexander the Great—but I’ve always wanted to see a proper extolment of his overlooked achievements: Behold the contemporary soul man! See how he struts the stage, declines to dance, eschews syncopation, single-handedly reclaims leather from bike freaks and gay cruising circles, and serves up a potent erectile stimulant that no one but R&B purists can resist. See how he enters the stage—unsmiling! resolute!—to ply his audience with preening anthems treating each sexual encounter like an eschatological event! Legend is indeed a category to himself—whereas previous soul men at least toyed with empathy while making hay out of their roots, Legend manages to spin commercial success out of a totally ahistorical self-regard. The salvation (there’s a word he’d approve of) comes in the traditional way: The tunes are so authentically inauthentic, they evoke as none others can the self-deception lurking behind the intimacy about which he croons.
JOHN LEGEND PERFORMS WITH INDIA.ARIE AND VAUGHN ANTHONY AT 6 P.M. AT MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION, 10475 LITTLE PATUXENT PARKWAY, COLUMBIA, MD. $36–$109. (202) 397-7328.