Alicia Keys, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 20 June 2011
"I don't always get a chance to do this like this," says the much-accomplished Alicia Keys, as she proudly looks out into the Royal Albert Hall, with just her piano and more than 5,000 audience members for company.
Unlike some of her previous shows that have been decorated with so much creative "hoo-ha", tonight's offering is overwhelming poignant. It marks the 10th anniversary of her debut album, Songs in A Minor, which was widely appreciated as a genre-defying album of its time. Blending the precocious teen's classical, hip-hop, New York and feminist influences, it unsurprisingly led to comparisons with Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, and later, five Grammy Awards.
Ten years later, she can now count 14 in her haul. Musically, the hip-hop references are subtler, she likes a rockier anthem, and with a kid and husband in the mix, her lyrics feel pretty grown up. But she's still the likeable performer than can effortlessly stir a crowd. Add the fact that she's got no band members or backing vocalists to lean on tonight, she displays the prowess of a truly remarkable virtuoso, rarely missing a note during her generous two-hour performance. Nods to Chopin and Beethoven are breaktaking, but it's when she unravels the story of her debut with a retrospective that includes Notorious B.I.G and Mary J Blige that we're reminded of what makes her so unique.
Her ability to straddle the old-school and the new means stripped versions of her most sentimental cuts – such as "Fallen" – demand to be respected, even if a good bulk of tonight's audience seem oblivious to other gems like "Never Felt This Way". Still, the mood noticeably picks up when Keys invites us to get involved, and we finger-click along to a spine-tingling performance of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me", echo the chorus to "A Woman's Worth" – but as her designated backing vocalists, we're pitiful. Unmoved by our response, she gives us another go to support her on "New York (Empire State of Mind)", and this time, we don't need to be asked twice to stand up.
The final big-hitters "Sure Looks Good to Me" and "No One" are pretty wonderful with their soaring notes and tender vocal nuances, ending the night on a high with a star who's accomplishments are clearly elevating her to the league of legends. Stunning show.
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