It often feels as if Alicia Keys is lost to the diluted world of contemporary R&B and soul singers. The genre is certainly in a rough state, with several of the sounds of late resembling today’s artists’ predecessors—a sample, simple lyrics, and tracks become a boring pastiche of a favorite artist from decades past.
Keys is no new artist, however, and certainly not a pastiche of anyone. Her three-album streak that began in the early 2000s is one that should undoubtedly receive more recognition, spawning hits such as “You Don’t Know My Name,” “No One,” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” In addition to this, who could forget her iconic appearance on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 where they dropped her city’s new theme song, “Empire State of Mind” in 2009? That song blasted through the speakers of nearly everyone’s cars, including my own old, raisin-resembling grandparents, who called the Big Apple home all their lives.
Keys still enjoys commercial success, but the heights of that run would be difficult for anyone to reach. Truth be told, when I made my second drive over to Inglewood in the space of four days—I had attended a brilliant concert by The Weeknd before he grabbed headlines by cutting the following night’s set short—I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Sure, I could have easily anticipated hearing the Keys classics, mentally picturing her belting out “Girl on Fire” before I’d even stepped into the YouTube Theater. However, the more recent entries into her discography had eluded me and I was excited to witness what she had been up to of late.
As I sat down with my sister, a longtime Keys fan, I began to count down the minutes until she would take the stage. As the lights dimmed, Keys emerged from behind a receding curtain, dressed to the nines; a jumpsuit littered with rhinestones hid beneath her long red coat, which dragged along the stage behind a pair of matching heels. After some vocal displays, she got right into “You Don’t Know My Name,” as the crowd followed her cue.
Standing elegantly in front of her keyboard, orange lights reflected off of Keys’ tantalizing outfit. Between striding across the stage and then hitting the highest of notes, a gentle orchestrated mix of ska and reggae made for a seamless transition into songs like “Karma.”
After a few songs and a slightly underwhelming guest appearance from Los Angeles native artist Miguel, Keys disappeared from view. Upon her return, she was dressed with a long headdress, covered in crystals, and a white bomber jacket. It was a masterful touch; she was now before two keyboards, claiming she’d like to bring the crowd into the “Keys universe.”
Keys then informed the attendees who, like me, were unaware, that her new album, Keys II, has two versions of each song—one raw and stripped back to acoustics and another that boasts heavy production alongside piercing vocals, or the “unlocked” alternate version. She performed both versions of “Skydive,” and then asked her audience which they preferred. The roar was for the alternate and the show went on.
As Keys moved into “Fallin’,” she brought out an accompanying group of background vocalists, all dressed in white, to harmonize. She then dipped her toes back into the classics, performing “Empire State of Mind” to an audience of blinding flashlights, “Girl on Fire,” and closing out with the emotional ride of “No One.” After thanking the crowd, she took her leave. Of course, she returned, and gave her fans a version of “If I Ain’t Got You,” and they sang along through the entirety of the hit—so much so that Keys was left in awe as she let her microphone down to fully enjoy the moment.
This was a fun, intimate concert from a future legend who has proven for years that she’s all about positive energy. Seeing as this is what Keys has been going for, I would consider her show a wild success. The new music goes in fresh directions but I don’t think it will break out of the rut I’m finding with R&B. Keys doesn’t necessarily follow this recipe but just happens to be sonically similar to those that are trying to do what she did more than a decade ago, and continues to record today. Still, this woman is an icon in her own right—not to mention a professional and disciplined vocalist—who puts it all on the stage for a damn good show.
Keys will perform two more shows in L.A. for this tour, on both September 6 and 7 at the Greek Theater.
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