Alicia Keys tells the crowd more than once that tonight is a night to let go. All eyes and ears lazer focus on Keys and her band, delivering euphoria for the soul.
Ever since her remarkable debut, Songs in a Minor, Keys been nothing if not consistent. She’s produced plenty of hits full of emotions and stories, not only hooks and catchiness, but it’s her albums that keep us coming back. In the last two years, she’s released three, Alicia, Keys, and Keys II, all damn fine additions to her body-of-work. On her World Tour, she continues her 20-year hot streak of mellowing us all out.
That’s what Alicia Keys means to me. She produces music that’s almost like a shoulder to rest your head on, relax, and as Keys says, “Let go.” Many a nights I’ve popped a gummy or delighted in a joint, only to unwind to her debut album or The Diary of Alicia Keys, The Element of Freedom, or most recently, Alicia. These albums flow with a dreaminess and realism that gels well with bud and helps you let go.
High or not, they’re just inspiring works of art from an artiste who can compose, produce, write, and sing the hell and heaven out of these tunes. Keys has always been an artist and a star. During her long-awaited World Tour, she shows her artistry and star power with grand intimacy. When Keys takes the stage, she reminds the audience it’s just us and her band tonight. It’s a few thousand people, give or take, but she makes everyone believe it and feel it.
To start the performance, the screen on stage parts. There’s a silhouette. Keys strikes a pose that gently screams, get ready, and she begins singing “Nat King Cole.” Without any backup vocals, Keys’ voice fills the arena with tranquility. The superstar silhouette pose Keys begins and ends the show encapsulates the World Tour. A more than fitting opening and finale.
There’s a fine, sometimes hard-to-read line between calculated and prepared. We’ve all seen concerts go through the motions, hit the marks, and deliver the expected, often at high quality levels, too. With Keys, everything about her performance is prepared, but also, authentic and natural. There is both wonderful staging and spontaneity.
Even with her young but already classic songs, there’s no hint of, Yes, I’ve sung this a thousand times already. It’s happening right there and now. She knows these songs inside and out, of course, but she makes them sound as fresh and new, as if the crowd is hearing them in a whole new light.
She’s not deviating from her recordings, although there’s one unique bit of experimentation with a few recent tracks, but she’s enlivening them. Yes, that’s the point of live music, but that’s not what we always hear and see in-person, is it? Keys not only plays her songs live; she celebrates them, loves them, and shares them with a crowd as passionate as her performance.
Never before have I seen such a gleeful performance, either. Even when songs confront despair or melancholy, Keys adds an intense joy to them. She beams with authentic positivity. When she sings “Everything’s gonna be alright” from “No One,” you believe her. Why? Partly because positivity isn’t a brand for Keys; it’s a truth.
Is it blaringly obvious yet I just love Alicia Keys’ work? I was primed and ready to vibe with her show, especially after waiting many years to see it, but everything about her work that’s admirable and feel-good turns up to an 11 when sung live. For me, her music is the soundtrack of good high times and much-needed escapes during rocky times, but to see her gift that solace to fans in-person, it’s… beautiful. Truly awesome, soul-warming beauty.
Being in an arena full of strangers, all knowing she’s there for them, that she’s as inspired by the crowd as they are by her, it’s a treasure I won’t forget. It may sound a little syrupy and post-concert hyperbole, but Alicia Keys music is about vulnerability, and unsurprisingly, so are her concerts. They’re full of love, and I’m happy to say it, everyone there experiences it with her.
The craft is every bit as impressive as the undeniable warmth of it all. At one point, Keys offers the crowd a choice. She plays snippets of two different versions of recent songs. One version is more spare, the other more for a party. Often, the crowd calls for the party, and what a party they get. Whether Keys stands and plays softly behind a piano or pumps up the volume behind something of a DJ set, she gets the crowd moving. Keys knows how to time her songs, when to make the audience reflect or rise to dance. Just like her albums, the show flows.
Pink Sweat$ strikes a similar tone and flow as the opening act. It’s just him and a guitarist, which is appropriate for Alicia Keys’ World Tour. It’s not bells and whistles, just art and love. We could all use some more of that in our lives, right? Keys, who’s very in tune with her audience and band, is aware of that much-needed desire.