Terminal 5 in New York City was swaying Thursday night as John Legend and the Roots performed in support of their recently released CD, Wake Up! As noteworthy as the spirited event itself and the quiver of funky guest artists was the fact that the show was directed by Spike Lee and streamed live.
This was the second in a series of live concerts, Unstaged, webcasts presented by American Express. The first featured Canadian rockers Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden in August and was directed by Terry Gilliam. Lee, who, beyond his feature films, has carved out a successful niche filming live performances — The Original Kings of Comedy; Passing Strange, the Broadway musical; and one-shot deals of John Leguizamo, Luciano Pavarotti and even basketball star Kobe Bryant — insisted beforehand that this wasn’t about him.
"It's not about my stamp," Lee told the AP. "You want to see the stamp of John Leguizamo, you want to see the stamp of [writer-composer] Stew with Passing Strange, the stamp of Pavarotti. I’m just there to help facilitate that."
Lee also admitted that he had never watched a concert online but was going to do his "due diligence." You can judge if he did here as the show is available for a 24-hour period beginning today. One thing the webcast documents that most inside the venue missed is the New Orleans-style "second line" entrance by Legend and the Roots. If you miss the rebroadcast, 10 clips from the show will live on the John Legend artist page and the American Express YouTube channel.
As for the really live show, in addition to standards by Legend and the Roots, it faithfully and fervently reproduced most of the tracks on the new CD, a collection of glorious '60s and '70s R&B and soul songs, down to the same guest artists on the CD. CL Smooth amped up "Our Generation (The Hope of the World)," and Common and Melanie Fiona worked well together on "Wake Up Everybody." Estelle subbed for Erykah Badu on the Roots' "You Got Me," and a slimmed-down Jennifer Hudson brought down the house during the encore duet with Legend on Walter Hawkins' classic gospel hit "Be Grateful."
The night's two most moving moments, though, were Legend’s passionate rendition of Bill Withers’ anti-war cry, "I Can't Write Left-Handed," and his own composition, "Shine," which plays over the closing credits in the documentary about the sorry state of American public schools, Waiting for "Superman.”
But you don't have to take my word for it — thanks to Spike.
Nick Charles is a regular contributor to The Root.