John Legend and the Roots bring soulful sounds, strong messages, and Jennifer Hudson to NYC's Terminal 5

JOHN-LEGEND-ROOTSLike that one cool teacher we all had way back when, John Legend and the Roots schooled a sold out crowd at New York City’s Terminal 5 last night. Promoting their collaborative release Wake Up!, comprised mostly of Civil Rights-fueled ‘60s and ‘70s covers, the soul crooner and hip-hop’s baddest band in the land ran through several tracks from the new set—as well as a few of Legend’s biggest hits. It was filmed by director Spike Lee and live streamed on Youtube and Vevo as the latest installment in American Express’ Unstaged concert series.

Parting the audience, Legend and the Roots entered like a New Orleans marching band and stepped up the stage to open with Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times,” their hard-hitting cut where John plays the part of a man surrounded neighbors who are quietly racist towards him. The song, like many others from their album embodied the evening’s lesson: Yeah, these songs were inspired from music created during the Civil Rights movement decades ago. But as much as things have changed, they’ve also stayed the same. As a U.S. flag waved in the background, Legend coolly sang Mike James Kirkland’s encouraging classic “Hang on in There.” The song’s breakdown, which included some spoken words about how Legend couldn’t turn his back on his friends or his country, did fall on some deaf ears, though.

“They better play some of their old stuff,” said one disgruntled man to his date. Presumably, he came for a more lighthearted show and not a Wake Up! call to action rally. Others also used some of the show’s most thoughtful moments to talk amongst themselves. It’s already tough to perform a record that came out two days before. Combine that with it being one rife with heavy messages and like a high school history lesson, the audience tuned out.

Eventually they got what they wanted. Legend dipped into his stash of R&B hits and pulled out his upbeat suggestive jam “Green Light.” Then the Roots brought out English siren Estelle for “You Got Me.” The crowd was alive and attentive again. From then on, there were no letdowns. In a white shirt, black vest, and matching sunglasses, Common joined songstress Melanie Fiona on stage for “Wake Up,” earning the night’s biggest applause.

As the lights dimmed, Legend followed with his biggest hit to date, “Ordinary People.” But just when people thought they got their money’s worth and were just about set to go, the encore brought the night’s biggest surprise guest. A slender Jennifer Hudson glided out to sing Walter Hawkins’ “Be Grateful” along with John.

Fans usually come to concerts to escape from the day’s harsh realities. Instead tonight John and the Roots smacked their audience with unabashed truth, still managing to make them groove. Racism’s still alive. Poverty exists within our boarders. And there is a war going on. I guess everything sounds better to Questlove’s beat.

Watch them perform “I Can’t Write Left Handed” and “Compared To What” after the jump.

What do you think of their new album? Do you plan on buying it? Let us know.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • telefonmann

    “Hard Times” is by Baby Huey, not Curtis Mayfield.

    • Brad Wete

      Wrong. Listen to the lyrics.

      • Tim

        You are both kinda right . . . “Hard Times” was first recorded by Baby Huey on his 1971 release, but it was written by Mayfield as he was producing the album. Mayfield recorded a far inferior version in 1975.

      • telefonmann

        Well anyone who is an actual fan of soul music, they would know that its was originally recorded by Baby Huey, and not Curtis Mayfield. do your research.

  • norma

    Jennifer Hudson ant nothing but the real truth. Our favorite Dreamgirl came out and shut it down. She is soooooooo incredible and amazing on the mic.

  • mike

    I was at this concert, and Jennifer Hudson’s song was enthralling. I had never seen her live before, and her voice was just completely overwhelming in the best way. Good stuff.

  • musicfan

    Can’t take jennifer Hudson. Perfect example of someone who can see, screaming. That song ‘Be greatful’ was no enjoyable. Her pronunciation was off and the over the top screaming just ruined it. I didn’t feel a thing.

    Love me some John Legend and ordinary People and gReeen Light are great.

    • norma

      Stop being a HATER. Jhud did that song a great justice. You don’t know real music are a great singer. Honestly Jennifer Hudson is by far the best female vocalist in the business today hands down. A great singer don’t always sing the way you like. Jhud took this song an owned it like a super star should. Why are commenting on Hudson any way. Her voice is for fans only.

  • hlweb

    John Legend Comes to Hopelink
    John Legend will be the featured speaker at Hopelink’s Reaching Out Luncheon Monday, October 18 in Bellevue, WA. Legend will speak about his philanthropic work and inspire with his music. Visit Hopelink’s website for more information.

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