Alicia Keys / June 18, 2008 / New York, NY (Madison Square Garden)
Dynamic musicianship is the mark of a good performer and Alicia Keys' performance Wednesday night (June 18) at New York City's Madison Square Garden definitely fit that description.Dynamic musicianship is the mark of a good performer and Alicia Keys' performance Wednesday night (June 18) at New York City's Madison Square Garden definitely fit that description.
The show, part of Keys' As I Am Tour, began with a five-song set by Jordin Sparks, who was clad in a pink dress and black heels and wore her hair in loose curls. Backed by two guitarists, a pianist and a drummer, the "American Idol" winner's set included the rock-tinged "Heartbreaker," "One Step At A Time" and "No Air" sans Chris Brown.
Ne-Yo took the stage next, sporting a black tail-coat tuxedo, a top hat and a baton. He was accompanied by an eight-member band, all wearing shiny silver suits and hats, and four female dancers in sparkly white leotards.
The Las Vegas, Nev., native started his set with his latest single, "Closer," which is currently No. 35 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, followed by "Can We Chill," the sensual tracks "Mirror" and "Say It," both which were accompanied by an equally sultry dance routine, and "Sexy Love."
Ne-Yo, who had changed into a white tuxedo, was then joined by rapper Fabolous for "Make Me Better," and Rihanna for "Hate That I Love You." Both guests received standing ovations from the energized audience.
The singer/songwriter wrapped up his set with crowd favorites "Go On Girl," a reggae-esque version of "So Sick," "Do You" and "Because Of You."
Headliner Alicia Keys was next, and she took the stage along with four back-up singers, six background dancers, a percussionist, a drummer, two guitarists, a saxophonist, a flutist and another keyboardist.
Three towering screens displaying Keys' childhood pictures and falling stars during "Fallin'," wrapped the stage just above a door that opened to reveal a swiveling platform holding a grand piano.
Draped in a black shirt, jeans and stilettos, the songstress opened with "Ghetto Story" and told the crowd that, "as a little girl I always had big dreams... for me it started with a girls group." Then, flanked by three of her background singers dressed in "Dreamgirls"-esque silver fringe dresses, Keys launched into "Where Do We Go From Here," "Teenage Love Affair" and "You Don't Know My Name."
Keys moved through her three wardrobe changes with powerful performances from her background singers, who wailed Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" and Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up."
The show was extremely coordinated; if Keys walked to the front of her stage, a dancer's routine lead her there; if she worked the left side of the stage, another keyboard awaited her; if she went backstage, she popped up in front of the large screens. The audience's attention span was consistently maintained.
During "How Come You Don't Call Me," Keys argued with an invisible man before running through "Butterflies," and "How Do you Love Someone." As she played "Prelude To A Kiss," Keys told the crowd that she'd written the song during her first trip to Africa and seamlessly plugged her "Keep A Child Alive" foundation- asking fans to text a $5 donation- without seeming pushy.
Another highlight was the "Diary" duet featuring longtime back-up singer Jermaine Paul, who gained notoriety on Keys' 2005 live "Unplugged" album.
Beginning the track by playing the piano upside down -- she laid across the instrument's top and eventually migrated to the piano bench -- Keys blended her alto with Paul's falsetto, before flowing into a rendition of Force MD's "Tender Love."
Ending her set with the hit "No One" and a standing ovation, Keys proved that a dynamic performance mixed with superior musicianship always wins.