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John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae @ UCI, 4/3

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John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae kicked off their 33-date US tour at UCI’s Bren Events Center on Tuesday night, reuniting two of the young stars who (along with Mr. Jessica Simpson John Mayer) delivered a poignant sleepy set at February’s Grammy Awards. In contrast to that milquetoast performance, Legend and CBR gave a lively three-hour show which even got the normally subdued Orange County crowd on its feet.

In this current era of pop music, where manufactured electronic beats coupled with absurdly simple lyrics (e.g. “I’m hot cuz I’m fly, you ain’t cuz you not,” or anything by Fergie) dominate the charts, it’s becoming increasingly rare to find artists that successfully cross over into the mainstream while maintaining a shred of originality, creativity, and versatility. Thus, it was refreshing to see John and Corinne exhibit all of these things while rockin’ the stage.

The British CBR, who was nominated for three Grammys in 2007 including Best New Artist, is best known for the breezy, sugary sweet “Put Your Records On” and the vulnerable “Like a Star” off her eponymous album. While both of those tracks possess a nice non-threatening pop sound, they belie the actual force of her voice and the rock and jazz-infused soul which underlies more of her music. Indeed, one of the most impactful songs was a take on Led Zeppelin’s piercing ballad, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, which alternated between bass-syncopated rhythms and a heavy electric guitar riffs behind Corinne’s emotional vocals.