Like a flashback to Essence Festival, a well dressed crowd came out to the New Orleans Arena Thursday night for
Alicia Keys' concert. I arrived to opening act Miguel covering Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.” The rest of his material consisted of modern, slightly mopey post-Drake R&B. Miguel sang in falsetto with his hand in the pocket of his bright red jeans as the stadium’s overhead lights threw shadows down his bare, muscled arms. Miguel addressed the crowd first in English and then in Spanish, before ending with his hit song, “Adore,” a nice tune that sounds very much like Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”
A giant white sheet then came down to obscure construction of Alicia Keys' set. And on the screen were projected commercials for Blackberry, which makes some sense since Keys serves as Blackberry’s global creative director, being forced to watch commercials before a concert is a buzzkill.
Finally the curtain lit up and rose to unveil Alicia Keys singing the chorus to “Empire State of Mind.” Keys and her mostly male dance troupe all wore the same Phantom of the Opera hats, and she also wore a sheer half-shirt. She played a killer rendition of “You Don’t Know My Name” second though I was disappointed, that her second keyboardist played the iconic descending piano scale, rather than Keys. She then made up for it with a long, perfect spoken word breakdown, acted out with a male dancer.
By her third song, the arena had not filled. A more intimate presentation of her dynamic music could be even better than the giant production she puts on now.
During “Tears Always Win,” Keys whipped off her big hat to display her sharp bobbed haircut. She and her band next sang some gospel before Keys rose from her piano as the show moved on to more synchronized dancing. Keys participated passably but seemed awkward. A musician more than a sex symbol, Alicia Keys seems more comfortable entertaining from behind the piano.
Stringing many of her hits together — “Real Man,” “Diary,” “Sleeping With a Broken Heart,” “Unthinkable” (which was the highlight of the show for me) — really brought into focus Keys’ dynamism, and the way her songs are so strikingly different from one another. New tunes from the Girl On Fire album — the mellow bossanova of “Listen To Your Heart,” the huge drums of “When It’s Over” — fit right in, as beautifully as anything in Keys’ extensive catalog.