John Legend x The Roots – Wake Up Tour, London | Review & Photos

In the sea of name-checking and auto-tuning Hip Hop and R&B acts that have graced our shores from the US recently, it’s easy to forget what the artists’ voices actually sound like. Then along comes John Legend and The Roots with their covers album – appropriately named Wake Up! – and we’re reminded what R&B and Hip Hop in it’s truest – and in my opinion best – form really sounds like.

Hammersmith Apollo was the setting for their first ever collaborative UK tour and gone were the over-produced instruments and vocal distortions that we’ve become used to [from lesser acts] and in their place the distinguishable, pure voice of John Legend fused with the powerful rap of Black Thought and the rest of the finely tuned yet unpredictable band that make up The Roots.

The gig kicked off with “Hard Times” originally performed by Baby Huey in 1971. The lyrics are so fitting in today’s society that delivered in this setting you could be forgiven for thinking that this was original material. Legend’s voice (velvet springs to mind) filled the room and peppered with the staccato piano and drum beat (?uestlove’s unmistakable contribution) the track was lifted making the whole performance so contemporary.

With this start the evening was set for soulful, uplifting R&B but we were rewarded not only with this but with rap meshed into the songs ensuring The Roots’ Hip Hop trade-sound was not lost within Legend’s performance; a reminder that rock’n’roll evolved from black music when Capt.Kirk performed his guitar solo complete with star jumps, guitar on his shoulder and full on rocking out during “I Can’t Write Left Handed”; pop when the lovely Estelle joined the stage initially to perform the Roots classic “You Got Me” but, in a nod to her American boys, belted out her best known track; and one of my favourite moments was when Legend and The Roots delivered an unexpectedly anthemic performance via Arcade Fire’s track aptly named “Wake Up”.

The roof came down when John Legend sang some of his solo hits such as “Green Light” and “Ordinary People” but, never to be outshone, the Roots were greeted with equally rapturous applause when they performed “The Seed”. However, in a reminder as to why we were all there, the final performance came courtesy of the collaborative current album which I’ve learned has an underlying theme of “awareness, engagement and consciousness— effectively telling listeners to Wake Up!

As I looked around the Apollo I couldn’t help but be conscious that this was the most multicultural event I have been to in a long time and the struggles well documented particularly in The Roots albums seemed confined to history. As they belted out the final track “Shine”, it really resonated how unifying music can be; this album both sonically and in all that it stands for deserves to do really well.

-Reviewed by Jacqueline Shepherd
-Photography by Michael Antoniou