If Alicia Keys is to bring her New York-centric brand of soul to any city outside of the Big Apple and anticipate an audience joining her in celebration of the city, she could do no better than the town the Yankees call home.
At the Forum on Sunday, opener Miguel, the next big thing after his show stopping Grammy performance, is a studious singer, showing his loyalty to his primary teacher, Prince, throughout his set. Not that this is a bad thing. However, it took both Miguel and his guitarist to mimic the sounds the Purple One could do alone.
Attempting to stretch his limited catalog of songs to 45 minutes, the talkative Miguel’s set was reminiscent of a well written run-on sentence by a talented young novelist who hasn’t learned to edit his considerable skills. Speaking in Spanish and English, the multi-ethnic Californian told stories of love, family and God. The band stayed too high in the mix during the lagging middle before finishing strong enough to give Keys a high bar to cross.
Beginning her set with the refrain from “Empire State of Mind” and a video of a flyover of the New York skyline, Keys did not have much work to do as she brought the diverse crowd to their feet.
Keys opted to break with concert tradition from artists with hit new albums, started with older hits “Karma” and “You Don’t Even Know My Name” before bringing any songs from her latest, chart-topping album, “Girl on Fire.”
Much like Beyonce, Keys is a consummate professional who never misses her mark, seamlessly transitioning between show pieces backed up by four eye-candy male dancers and slower ballads seated at her grand piano.
Much has been made of her recent vocal issues, but Keys sounded great throughout the Sunday night show. The grit in her voice displays maturity and seasoning.
Show highlights included her first hit “Falling” and “No One,” which now includes the refrain “Put your cell phones in the air, celebrate life.” Is this terribly hokey? Yes. Does it work? According to the approximately 8,000 in attendance, yes. Her set then ended with three straight hits from her latest album – “New Day,” the Sheila E influenced “Girl on Fire” and the monster ballad “Brand New Me.”
With her first costume change of the night, Keys reemerged in a black evening gown for her single song encore, an extended response song, “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down” which was powerful enough to (almost) get a jaded Boston loyalist to sing along.
It is refreshing in an age of manufactured pop and overly sexualized singers to see a young performer focused upon the songs at hand and choosing to present a classic image instead of relying on fantastical set designs, objectifying costumes and salty language (not that I mind the latter) to mask the lack of song writing and artistry.
One would not be embarrassed to bring her 10 year old child and 60 year old mother to this show.
While one could take issue with the lack of tempo and key changes in her music, Alicia Keys is in the game for the long haul, choosing the Aretha Franklin, Etta James road instead of going for the quick and easy hits before flaming out and ending on a reality music program.