“Alicia is HERE,” a sign read alongside the facade of the famed Apollo Theater on 125th street Saturday night (Nov. 5), illuminating the populated sidewalk as pedestrians shuffled their way through a line of Alicia Keys devotees anxiously awaiting entry into the special show.
On the heels of her shutting down Times Square with a “surprise” concert, the adage “home is where the heart is” holds true for the New York City native, who released her hotly awaited album Here on Nov. 4 — a 16-track homage to the concrete jungle — and returned to her stomping grounds for a special performance at Harlem’s historic venue for the Landmarks Live in Concert series.
With bated breath, fans sat through the show’s opening short film, The Gospel, a narrative on Keys’ formative experiences growing up in New York City, a theme her deep cuts would later delve into by the night’s end. Shortly after 8:30 p.m., the night’s headliner sashayed onto the stage and dived into a spirited performance of “The Gospel,” vehemently striking away on her piano.
“Are we in Harlem tonight?!” an ebullient Keys said to the packed Apollo Theater. Her dulcet tones echoed off the theater’s walls as she segued into “Pawn It All,” peeling back it’s layers and slowing down the tempo.
“This song right here makes me have to get a chair,” the “In Common” singer said before her impassioned delivery of the Emeli Sande-assisted track “Kill Your Mama.” “Is there any saving us, we’ve become so dangerous/ Is there any change in us, even for the sake of love,” Keys laments in the heart-tugging lyrics.
Keys mentioned that Sande is her “writing soulmate” and the two co-wrote the song after sharing an interest in Native American folk music. “I wanna dedicate this song to Standing Rock,” she continued. “And all the people who are fighting to save our water and our sacred land.”
Backed by her husband’s textured arrangements that epitomize New York’s old-school hip-hop scene, Keys continued to unmask her story with the “love letter to New York” double-track “She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv.” Amid her lively performance, the Grammy Award-winning songstress called upon acclaimed jazz composer and vibraphonist Roy Ayers for a solo electronic breakdown on the soulful track.
“We love you Alicia!” one concert-goer yelled as the singer rested her voice. Without missing a beat, Keys ripped through the rest of Here’s collection with fluorescent purple lights permeating throughout the venue as she swayed to the rhythmic melodies from her soundtrack, like the self-empowerment cut “Illusion of Bliss,” “Blended Family (What We Do For Love)” and “More Than We Know/”
— Apollo Theater (@ApolloTheater) November 6, 2016
From life-lessons and self-love anthems, Keys’ Here is not only a raw account of her life and experiences within her native land, but an open dialog about America’s turbulent state, her lyrics littered with aggravation and reflected mostly on the socially-charged anthem “Holy War,” the night’s closing hymn.
“I hope that on Nov. 8, when you go out and vote — when we go out and vote — we choose to build bridges,” Keys offers to the crowd and was met with roars of praise and claps. “I hope we choose to break walls … I hope we vote love.”