John Legend / India.Arie Metropolis, Montreal, QC August 17

John Legend / India.Arie Metropolis, Montreal, QC August 17
Montreal isn't typically a haven for soul music, but no one told that to this packed house. Fans came out to Montreal's Metropolis to catch the formidable double bill of neo-soul singers John Legend and India.Arie, and witnessed two powerful - but vastly different - pop stars.

One couldn't help but smile at the love-in that was India.Arie's hour-long set. Accompanied by a flawlessly tight band (led by musical director Shannon Sanders), the singer performed mostly songs from her newest release, Testimony Vol. 2: Love & Politics, describing her work as "poetry about spiritual ideals like forgiveness and self-respect" and preaching peace through music. Arie's charismatic stage presence warmed the audience, creating a vibe of honesty that was perfectly in line with her stripped-down, authentic soul music. And while her voice alone was inspiring, Arie was at her best when spinning intricate three-part harmonies with her backup singers.

Headliner John Legend brought a completely different energy to his show, performing a blockbuster concert in front of a giant LED screen bright enough for Times Square. Everything about Legend's set was larger than life - the seizure-inducing flashes of "HOLLA, HOLLA, HOLLA" on the screen during opening number "Used to Love U" come to mind - but the singer managed to steal attention away from the sleek production.

Although Legend began his set with singles from 2008's Evolver and a microphone at centre stage, he shined brightest when he sat at a grand piano to perform his older, more intimate songs like "Let's Get Lifted." The set's highlight was a beefy reggae rendition of Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low," accented by Legend's underutilized three-piece horn section.

However, the glaring contrast between Arie's sparse, personal music and the over-the-top club soul of Legend didn't stop the audience from bumping and grinding their way through the entire concert, enjoying one of Montreal's best nights of modern soul music in recent memory.