Saturday Night: Sade & John Legend At Toyota Center
See more smooth operation from Sade & John Legend in our slideshow.
As word of Amy Winehouse's death spread across the Internet Saturday, another British soul singer was preparing to perform in Houston for the first time in about a decade. And there, so it would seem, the similarities between Sade Adu and Winehouse end - two women who shared a hometown, a fondness for saxophones and little else.
But perhaps not. Although Adu keeps her personal affairs as private as Winehouse did not - by her own choosing or fiat of Britain's notoriously ravenous tabloid editors - both women's music trafficks in the kind of powerful, even painful intimacy that convinces listeners that they actually know these people. And, even more importantly, that the singers know them.
Whether or not that intimacy stems from events in their offstage lives doesn't matter. It was (for Winehouse) and has been (Sade) convincing enough to make both women the equivalent of rock stars, with attendant album and ticket sales, in a genre that does not produce too many.
In fact, Winehouse's death went completely unremarked upon Saturday night, by Sade or anyone else. The news was still filtering across the Atlantic, and the full house at Toyota Center was adept at using their smartphones for photography, but Aftermath did not spy a whole lot of tweeting or even texting going on.
The nearest anyone came to acknowledging what had happened was not very near at all: John Legend opened up the show with a doo-wop gospel cover of Adele's smash "Rolling In the Deep." Monday, Adele wrote that Winehouse "paved the way for artists like me" on her blog, Rolling Stone reported.
Overall, though, the Ohio-bred Legend stitched together several different strains of older soul with enough personality to elevate his set beyond pastiche. The passion of Marvin Gaye leapt into uptempo, horn-powered numbers like the socially conscious "Hard Times" and suavely confident "Alright" (which found Legend checking out his three female backup singers); there was a dash of late-'60s Temptations psychedelia in the guitar of "Let's Get Lifted."
Whether he sat down at the piano to croon like Smokey Robinson ("Save Room") or stood on top of it exhorting the crowd to follow suit ("Green Light"), though, his story was the same: A man seeking release and redemption through romance, willing to work it out and not too proud to beg for another chance (if not overly given to compromise).
Soul music can be as complicated and contradictory as the very human emotions it charts, and if that meant an occasional retreat into the time-tested tropes of Al Green ("Slow Dance") or James Brown (a high-kicking cover of "I'll Go Crazy"), so be it.