There is a lot of music history that has taken place at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Moments such as the Beatles first U.S. performance and the Doors controversial rendition of “Light My Fire” helped establish this building’s musical legacy. The sheer amount of talent that has graced the Ed Sullivan Show and the Late Show with David Letterman continue to build upon this rich heritage. With Live on Letterman, however, this theater’s legacy has moved into the digital age with full performances streamed to over 185 million fans to date. This concert series has featured prominent artists such as Pearl Jam, Phoenix, Coldplay, Gorillaz, Depeche Mode, Adele, Foo Fighters, Alicia Keys, Norah Jones and many more. OurVinyl has had the fortune to be at several of these concerts to capture the live experience and can attest to some of the magic that goes on inside of this building. What makes this series so special, however, is the ability to take these concerts with you and relive the experience. Not only is CBS Media bringing these intimate performances directly to you, but with new interactive features the viewers can now toggle between multiple cameras, capture and share photos, and even choose the final song.
Live on Letterman artists are typically of a high caliber and have established great reputations. In addition to these traits, however, these artists are often relevant to the current music scene as they are often there promoting new releases or other notable achievements. The artists that performed on Monday and Tuesday of this week certainly met this description. There are several other parallels that can be made when looking at John Mayer and John Legend, who both performed sets filled with new material from their upcoming releases. At 35 and 34 years young, these two Johns both broke out into the music scene in their early 20’s, each gaining Grammy nominations for Best New Artist following their debut releases in addition to averaging over two other Grammy nods each year for the following 10 years. Each are amongst the most talented musicians today at their respective instruments and each has continued to release quality music while still being able to evolve their sounds. John Mayer’s pop infused hits took on a new life when infused with blues, while John Legend has lent his talents to so many different type of songs ranging from R&B, hip-hop, and soul. This week, at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, these two artists continued to prove why are they are amongst the best at what they do.
John Mayer’s new CD, Paradise Valley, came out on August 20th, which was one day after his Live on Letterman performance. After spending much of the year off of the road following vocal surgery, a lot of his time went into the creation of this album which came out just 15 months after 2012’s Born and Raised. After over a year of recovery, Mayer seemed humbled while on stage, taking time introduce his new songs as well as clear his throat and chat with the crowd. But when he was back to the mic singing all certainly seemed just as good as it ever was. More importantly, his guitar chops are even more present an poignant. “Queen of California” was the first track that the band went into and a distinctly Western ambiance was established. With a slide guitar on stage for the entire set and several band members in poncho, it was difficult to recall that this was the same person who ruled the pop charts with “Your Body Is A Wonderland” for so long. Nobody in the audience seemed to mind and every song that was played was met with eager anticipation regardless of which album it came from.
The next track played was “Something Like Olivia,” which was also off of Born and Raised. Many were hearing these songs live for the first time, as Mayer did not have the chance to fully tour in support of his previous release. With two albums coming out in such a short span, this performance felt much different than if you had seen him years in the past. Also, Mayer seems more comfortable than ever with all his new material. “Paper Doll,” the first single off of Paradise Valley, gave Mayer ample opportunity to show off some of his guitar licks, which preside heavily over many of the new tracks. The deepest into his catalog that he would end up going was “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” off of 2006’s Continuum. This song especially took on a new life live, as it was stretched into a growing crescendo of guitars for the outro. One of the highlights of Mayer’s set came from the opening track of his latest release, “Wildfire.” With the entire audience clapping along, this jubilant shuffle is difficult to stay still to and is sure to be a fan favorite at future performances. Staff at the Ed Sullivan Theatre were handing out copies of Paradise Valley upon exiting the venue, and this is definitely one that continues to get better with each listen so do yourself a favor and treat your ears to it.
Just 23 hours later at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, the crowd was treated to yet another fantastic performance from a different sort of Legend. With his new album, Love in the Future, set to be released on September 3rd, the Live on Letterman performance proved to be a good spot for John Legend to premier some his new songs. The drums pounded as Legend walked to the stage and went into one of his new tracks, “Made to Love,” a captivating track which features booming percussion which is joined by piano towards the conclusion of the song. Continuing with the suggestive tracks, “Tonight (the Best You’ve Ever Had)” was the second song played. This track, from the 2012 movie Think Like a Man, had many people in the crowd trying to match the high notes that Legend was crooning. Thankfully Legend and his band overpowered the audience.
Unlike the previous night’s performer, Legend played tracks from his first release, with hit singles such as “I Used to Love U” and “Ordinary People” both being highlights of the set. Whether the crowd was dancing in the aisles or for the former or singing to every word for the latter song, John Legend completely mesmerized all of the spectators throughout the 45 minute set. There were certainly some more tender moments in some of the new tracks that Legend previewed as well, which were showcased in the latter half of the performance.
Viewers of Live on Letterman had apparently chosen for John Legend to close the set in style with “Green Light” off of 2008’s Evolver. Legend urged the crowd on for the chorus having them sing “I’m ready to go right now” repeatedly, even though many at the Ed Sullivan Theatre may have felt otherwise. This uptempo track closed out a solid set which spanned much of Legend’s so far illustrious career. His set certainly left us eager to hear more. Fortunately we don’t have to wait long for Love in the Future.
With the Live on Letterman series, fans are given the chance to experience these great performances first hand. This concert series continues to attract top artists from all genres and bring them right into your living room. It is in your interest to explore some of their past concerts as well as these two gems and become part of the Ed Sullivan Theatre’s rich musical history.
John Mayer photos courtesy of Heather Wines, CBS Photo
John Legend photos courtesy of Jeffrey Staab, CBS Photo
Written By Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer & Photographer