Not many New Yorkers who could march onto the Staples Center stage to Frank Sinatra's “New York, New York,” ahead of a quick snippet of “Empire State of Mind” without getting the crowd fired up. (Even Jay-Z gave a semi-apologetic intro before performing the latter track on his last trip to town.) But Alicia Keys was quickly won everybody in attendance with her piano ballads and soulful anthems. It was the fourth night of her North American tour, and she already seemed to hit her stride.
See also: Our slideshow of the concert
Miguel opened; here's a review of his warm-up show on Monday.
A lot has changed for Keys both personally and professionally since the release of 2009's The Element of Freedom. She married and had a son with producer Swizz Beatz, produced a Broadway play, directed her first film and designed a line of Reebok sneakers.
Girl on Fire, the singer's most recent effort, reflects these changes. The album's a departure for Keys, full of midtempo songs containing traces of rock and reggae, along with thinly veiled, introspective lyrics that focus on her personal evolution.
Wearing a sequin body suit along with an oversized fedora that was reminiscent of Michael Jackson, the stylish Keys struck the right balance between slower, piano-driven ballads and uptempo pop numbers. She was crisp, confident and glowing throughout the two-hour set, even if she kept the banter to a minimum.
She was joined by a four-piece band, backing singers and dancers, all of whom contributed to the slick stage production.
There were many moving parts, including three big screens, a complicated lighting show, and her trademark grand piano that came and went. But there was also an element of spontaneity. As she launched into “Anytime, Anyplace,” the beat dropped and from the side of the stage appeared rapper Kendrick Lamar, who performed both “Poetic Justice” and “Swimming Pools” to some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Before launching into a spirited version of “No One,” Keys encouraged the crowd to raise their cell phones in the air; they obliged, creating a sea of bright lights.
Random Notebook Dump: We get it that Keys is the current spokeswoman as BlackBerry, which is why they set up shop in the arena's concourse. But is a concert really the most effective place to hawk mobile phones?
Streets of NY / EMPIRE IN
You Don't Know My Name
Tears Always Win
Listen To Your Heart
Like You'll Never See Me Again
***** SEGUE – SO SIMPLE ****
***** SEGUE – ALL I NEED ****
When Its All Over
Fire We make
Not Even The King
If I Ain't Got U
Girl On Fire
Brand New Me
Illuminate Me —> Empire FULL
See also: *Our slideshow of the concert