“We’re going to make up the ten years tonight,” jazzy songstress Sade said at the beginning of her concert. Indeed, a decade has passed between her last tour and her current one, which stopped in Chicago for a three-night stint August 5-7 at the United Center in Chicago. A near-capacity crowd warmly welcomed her back August 5, and she rewarded fans with a beautifully designed and executed show.
Strutting onstage in a form-fitting black sequined outfit, she saluted the audience with a thundering “Soldier of Love,” backed by her longtime band, including Stuart Matthewman (guitar and sax), Andrew Hale (keyboards), and Paul S. Denman (bass). “I’ve lost the use of my heart/But I’m still alive” she sang defiantly, proving that she’s a true survivor after over 25 years in the music business. Throughout the rest of the evening, she alternated between her earlier, more hopeful songs (“Your Love Is King”) and the world-weary tracks from her last album (“Skin”). The staging was impeccable; at times each band member stood on separate, lighted platforms, adding to the modern, sleek look of the entire concert.
Although the lighting and films that often played in the background added to the songs’ drama, it was Sade herself that remained a compelling presence. Often she glided across the stage, interpreting lyrics with small but powerful gestures. At 52, she retains her distinctive looks and appears almost exactly like her younger 80s self. When she performed her first big hit “Smooth Operator” (punctuated by a film noir-ish sequence of cityscapes and neon signs), her voiced sounded just as strong yet subtle as it did in 1984. As on previous tours, the band slightly altered the original arrangements, adding depth and different dimensions to familiar songs. The chopping sound of a helicopter becomes the rhythm of “Paradise,” with slightly harder lead guitar. In another example, the live version of “Skin” emphasized the band’s skill with minimal arrangements—a tasteful guitar fill here, a slight change in tempo there.
While Sade sang her big hits, quiet moments with her sitting by the piano or perched at the edge of the stage, quietly crooning, were particular highlights of the night. Soldier of Love’s “In Another Time” evoked gentle ballads from the 70s, while “Jezebel” showcased her supple voice with saxophone and keyboards as accompaniment. As always, the crowd wildly reacted when she performed her torch ballad “Is It A Crime?” from 1985′s Promise. The track starts as a slow burn, with her voice reaching a climax as “tall as the Empire State,” as the lyrics describe. The added guitar solo added a sense of longing, the notes piercing through the darker-sounding chords.
Footage of Sade graced the screen at various points, whether frolicking through a field of daisies or wielding a lasso while wearing a sparkly, black skintight suit. The latter image added a sense of mystery to “The Moon and the Sky,” yet Sade’s straightforward delivery and determined expression proved equally enchanting. The quietly affecting “Pearls,” which narrates the story of a poor Somalian woman, featured her standing in front of a projected setting sun. When she belted out the line “Hallelujah,” her voice resounded with anger and devastation.
After the one-two punch of “No Ordinary Love” and “By Your Side,” she exited the stage as the audience cheered. Her encore, “Cherish the Day,” involved impressive effects. A sheer white curtain draped across the stage, Sade and her band standing behind it. As a city skyline was displayed on the screen, Sade rose up on a platform, eventually appearing as though she were standing on top of the buildings. This image served as an appropriate metaphor, as her elegant presence proved larger than life throughout the concert. Since 1984, Sade has emerged as a singular talent with few imitators, and this riveting concert made a convincing argument for her longevity.
A singular talent requires a unique opening act, and John Legend proved equal to the task. Beginning with a gospel-tinged rendition of “Rolling in the Deep,” he immediately segued into “Hard Times” from 2010′s Wake Up! He worked hard to connect with the audience, but it was his ballads that clearly showcased his powerful voice, thus commanding attention. “This Time” highlighted how he can evoke emotion with his vocals, such as on he lines “This time I want it all, this time I want it all/Showing you all the cards, giving you all my heart.” Not surprisingly, he garnered the biggest reaction with the hits: “Save Room,” “Green Light,” and the monster single “Ordinary People.” The latter track best demonstrates his talent for channeling 60s and 70s sounds, infusing them with a modern twist.