Fast-rising R&B singer Alicia Keys on Wednesday night showed that she’s more than capable of following in the star footsteps of Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu as she showcased songs from her multiplatinum debut, “Songs in A Minor.”
The singer, who turned 21 yesterday, appeared at DAR Constitution Hall in Northwest with a full touring band a disc jockey, horn and sax section, two percussionists, guitar, bass, three backup singers, a rapper and keyboardist. Miss Keys frequently tickled the ivories herself.
The live ensemble helped turn what could have been a dry recitation of her album into a vibrant concert experience, with songs changing shape with the creative input of so many musicians.
Her 11/2-hour set began with spotlights scanning the stage empty save for Miss Keys’ piano and the dramatic, opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was an appropriate introduction because Miss Keys’ classically trained piano skills are a good match for her soulful lyrics and jazz-influenced melodies.
Miss Keys appeared triumphant onstage a moment later, wearing her trademark wide-brimmed hat. The band immediately launched into “Rock Wit U,” which was fleshed out into a far more upbeat, funkier number than the studio take.
The backdrop throughout the show was a brownstone apartment building, a nod to Miss Keys’ childhood in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in New York City. Few other props or stage settings were used, putting more emphasis on the musical output.
Her dance moves were often limited, too, but she moved around stage with a knowing confidence, giving shoutouts to Washington and joining three dancers in a longer sequence built around the song, “Mr. Man.”
She hit her popular cover of Prince’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me?” early in the night, breaking from the song to call up a boyfriend, only to immediately hang up on him. The heavily female crowd roared with approval.
The theatrics were dropped for the show’s middle half, which featured Miss Keys alone at her piano. Sitting toward the front of the stage, she played through slower numbers “Goodbye” and “Butterflyz,” two songs that transition well between one another and highlight her excellent piano-playing skills.
Miss Keys touched on nearly every song from her debut, including “Troubles,” “A Woman’s Worth,” “Why Do I Feel So Sad” and “The Life.”
The highlight of the night came with the final two songs, “Girlfriend” and the encore number “Fallin’”. Miss Keys set up “Girlfriend” by saying, “This next song makes me sad … no, it makes me upset.”
Rapper Freak Nasty joined her for “Girlfriend,” a song about a cheating boyfriend, and gave it a needed kick. The faster tempo helped end the show on an up note.
The crowd erupted in cheers a few minutes later when Miss Keys returned for the encore, her hit single “Fallin’”. The song showcases her skills as a songwriter more clearly than any other number, with its simple chorus of “I keep on fallin’/in and out/of love/with you” set to a rising and falling scale on piano.
The opening act, Glenn Lewis, previewed songs from his debut, “World Outside My Window,” to be released in March.