"It’s taken 25 years to get here Charlotte,” Sade said after opening her set Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena with the Grammy winning 2010 single “Soldier of Love.” “Tonight we’ll make up for the lost days and years.” And boy did she. The Nigerian-born beauty, who looks nowhere near her 52 years, sang over twenty songs in two hours hitting on several tracks from 2010’s comeback album “Soldier of Love” as well as her biggest hits.
She and her band may be best remembered for earlier hits like 1985’s “Sweetest Taboo” and “Smooth Operator,” but there was never the sense that that’s the only thing the crowd was waiting on. Sure those songs were met with their share of excitement, but so were album tracks like “Is It a Crime” and “Jezebel” (both from 1985’s “Promise”). She floated from the loungey jazz of “Skin” to the sultry world feel of “Love is Stronger than Pride” to the pop-funk of “Paradise” to the dark, meaty world music of “Love is Found” (from the new double disc “Ultimate Collection”). Like “Soldier,” the latter hinted at hip-hop with her playful vocals.
The crowd included Lenny Kravitz, reportedly in town to film “The Hunger Games.” He drew eyes and cell phone cameras to the middle of the arena during the between act set change. The set for Sade was a blank stage that could morph to suit each song. The animated film noir scene that introduced “Smooth Operator” was particularly well done with its vivid cityscape and train running across the screen. At other times classic red drapes flanked the stage.
Changes in production were as subtle as Sade’s ability to drift between R&B, jazz, pop, and world music. She joined her backup singers for the simple and short “All About Our Love” as scenes of the group on tour rolled on the screen. She returned to them for a bit of booty shaking on “Paradise.”
She started the show dressed in black singing “Your Love Is King” and “Kiss of Life.” She wore the same severe ponytail and hoop earrings as she did as an unlikely MTV star in the `80s. During “Bring Me Home” she and the band performed behind a cheesecloth-like screen with projections rolling in front of and behind them. This ghostly effect was repeated later when she emerged in a sparkling white evening gown, hair down, for the final portion of the show (pictured above) that included “Morning Bird,” “King of Sorrow,” “Sweetest Taboo” and “No Ordinary Love.” The latter was another crowd favorite elevated by its punchy guitars.
The combination of skilled, but subtle musicianship (even showy solos were tasteful), seamless production, and Sade’s demeanor and voice created a timeless class act.
John Legend warmed up the crowd similarly. Songs like “P.D.A.” were sexy, but never raunchy. He opened with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” juggling piano ballads with Motown-style soul throughout the set. He serenaded one lady (Nikki Waddell) on stage with “Slow Dance” before sending her off with a rose. She swooned as did the crowd later for “This Time” and “Everybody Knows” (both from 2008's "Evolver").
Legend was given ample time, which was appropriate considering the Grammy winner’s status as a hit maker in his own right and his history in Charlotte. It was nice to see him playing one of the city’s largest venues after playing Amos’ Southend in its pre-renovation days and more recently Ovens Auditorium. He explained that his bassist fell ill right before the show forcing the nine-piece band to go on without part of its rhythm section. Before launching into the one-two punch finale of “So High” (from his first album) and “Greenlight” he joked: “I don’t want reviewers saying, ‘What’s wrong with John Legend’s band?'”