- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

It’s called her “Diary” tour, but instead of revealing innermost secrets, multiple Grammy winner Alicia Keys offered a sweeping panorama of soul, blues and jazz — coupled with her own hits, of course — during her weekend engagement at DAR Constitution Hall.

Saturday’s lengthy show, delayed by more than 20 minutes by street closures that kept hundreds of concertgoers stranded outside, offered two star attractions: Miss Keys and rising singer-songwriter John Legend.

But make no mistake. The New York-born songstress, now 24, clearly ruled the night, showcasing shades of Billie Holliday, a chorus of “Hi-de-hi-de-hey” from Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” and even Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 novelty hit “I Put A Spell On You” during her 90-minute performance.

Setting a scene reminiscent of a 1930s Harlem ballroom (complete with a velvet chaise lounge and a crystal chandelier that dangled at center stage from a beam), the beautiful Queen Keys dazzled early with a big-band-inspired arrangement of “Karma” (from her 2003 sophomore album “The Diary of Alicia Keys”). A catchy James Brown hook provided a slick segue into “Crazy” (also from “Diary”) as Miss Keys sang and rhythmically moved nonstop.

The arrival of a white baby grand piano signaled a brief respite from the star’s frenetic energy. Miss Keys, a percussive-style pianist, was in her element serving up a cover of Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman” accompanied by the flawless vocals of her standout background trio of Jermaine Paul, Denis Standmire and Sara Devine.

Remaining at the baby grand, Miss Keys soared through “A Woman’s Worth” (from 2002’s “Songs in A Minor”), while inviting her audience to participate as she encouraged good-natured ribbing between the sexes.

“How many real men are out there?” she asked. A sea of arms swiftly shot up.

A more rousing response greeted the predictable follow-up question: “And how many really good, strong women?”

Easing further into a chatty mode with “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” she committed one of the few faux pas in her set by blurting out an expletive — surely an unnecessary gimmick in an otherwise class act.

Perhaps thinking better of it, there were no more blue moments, though the show temporarily lost a measure of its momentum with a mediocre rendition of Lady Day’s “Good Morning Heartache.” This proved that Miss Keys — who has been tapped to play phenomenal pianist Philippa Schuyler in an upcoming feature film — is better at simply being herself than mimicking other stylists.

But she quickly rebounded, blazing through her biggest hits, including “Diary” (a spirited duet with Mr. Paul), “You Don’t Know My Name” and “If I Ain’t Got You.”

On the other hand, Mr. Legend, Miss Keys’ opening act, was nearly overpowered by a noncohesive rhythm section whose members played far too loudly and seemed more interested in soloing than in backing the burgeoning star.

Mr. Legend and his background singers struggled to keep pace with the band’s full-throttle approach on “She Don’t Have to Know,” “Used to Love You” and the beautifully poetic “Ordinary People.”

A serious musician, Mr. Legend is better suited for more intimate venues at this stage of his career. Perhaps he’ll find his footing when he returns this summer for a July 18 appearance at Baltimore’s Rams Head Tavern

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