I like Alicia Keys. My appreciation of the 29-year old-singer started back in 2001 when I first heard "Falling" during an end-of-the-night-slow-jam-set at Guvernment night club in Toronto. I fell in love with the song immediately, and became an instant fan.
The first time I saw Alicia Keys live--April of 2004 in Detroit for the "Verizon Ladies First Tour" with Beyonce, Tamia, and Missy Elliot--I remember watching her on the empty stage with a perfect piano, and perfect acoustics to listen to her compositions. I'm pretty sure I was jealous. I wondered what it felt like to play a piano that beautiful, in a venue that huge, with a sound so big, and share her personal creations with so many people.
The second time I saw Alicia Keys live was at Casino Rama (north of Toronto) in March of 2005. It was the "Diary Tour" and was supposed to feature John Legend, but he decided not to perform, leaving many fans disappointed. (See my review of the Diary Tour, published in Pride Newspaper - "Alicia Keys Rocks, John Legend Rocks on Canadian Stop of Diary Tour: Tour Insider, Chris Rob, Shares the Details.")
There were a few more tours that I didn't get around to seeing...but I made sure to find myself at the "Freedom Tour" last night, March 10, 2010, as it stopped in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.
What can I say? It was a great show! The arena was sold-out, the energy was nice, and it was a pleasure to hear her play and sing live again. I'm always amazed at how good a lot of performers sound when you hear them live, and I think this is why it's essential that I see my favourite arists perform on stage. While the albums are enjoyable and the videos are entertaining, you really can't experience the full range and potential of a musician until you are in their space, and giving them a couple hours of your time to see what they can do to convince you that they're worth the album/ticket expenses.
I almost forgot how many great tracks Alicia has from her 9-year history as a recording artist. From songs like You Don't Know My Name, to Superwoman, No One, and the new favourite Sleeping With A Broken Heart...she has really proven to be a superstar.
There aren't many artists who have consistently put out great albums, hits after hit, and still managed to stay humble, and display evident growth, both musically and socially.
What I like about Alicia is that while she keeps the elements the same--the piano and the soulful grooves--she still manages to bring a new layer of musicality to each record she releases. The songs on 2009's The Element of Freedom album are more complex than those of 2001's Songs in A Minor, but yet still classically "Alicia Keys" material.
I like that she keeps it cool. Her songs are never too sexual, too controversial, too ignorant, or too simple. They are the right balance of reality, of love, sensibility, and social awareness...and they make you feel good to hear them.
The best part about the show last night, despite the amazing sounding Yamaha grand piano with those heavy bass notes and clear treble keys...was the stage design. I haven't seen a light show like this at a concert in a good while, and I definitely appreciated the efforts made to make this a real sight.
I loved the consistent messages taking place along the backdrop. While she sang, talked to the audience, and danced her ass off (along with who we think were former So You Think You Can Dance contestants, as backup dancers), there were messages lighting up her set.
It made everyone realize that not only is Alicia Keys a beautiful woman, a talented woman, and really a great singer when it's just her, a mic, and a piano on stage...but that she's also still got something going on upstairs. You can tell that she really feels her messages, her charity (Keep a Child Alive) and humanitarian efforts aside from her music career. With many other female artists (not naming names)...what you see is often what you get, and sadly, all there is.
And Alicia she didn't beat us over the head with preaching, beg for donations, or lecture us about our charitable activities; she let the stage, the words, and the on-screen images of past leaders and freedom fighters, speak for her.
It was a nice combination of good tunes and uplifting themes. I love that over the past decade, Alicia Keys has managed to remain a professional, and prove her worth not through words or through visual validation...she is living proof of what she believes.
Good show, despite missing the opening performance by Melanie Fiona and a guest appearance by Kardinal Offishall. I did get to catch that sensual Robin Thicke, and will be picking up his album very soon, as a result.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again...I don't know how much more inspiration I can take! I love love love to see my generation taking their artistic talents, and making major movements with their works.