Alicia Keys brings ambitious tour to Boston

A review of Alicia Keys at the TD Banknorth Garden on June 11, 2008

, Editor-in-Chief

Alicia Keys brought her ambitious “As I Am” tour to Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday night. At 28-years old, the nine-time Grammy award winner has certainly earned her distinction as one the best new artists in the last decade, but the tour’s name is ironic because it fails to play to her strengths.

In a year when Madonna can’t even sell out the Garden, tackling the city’s biggest venue was certainly ambitious (consequently, only the lodge was filled with clusters of fans in the balcony). Keys is no Madonna, and she’s no Beyonce or Mariah Carey. Yet, her current tour attempts to give off this impression with big staging, big lights, and big choreography. It just seems to be too much because at the heart of the matter, Keys is a singer-songwriter who finds her home at the piano. The differences on Wednesday night were jarring, but Keys talent prevailed enough to provide for an entertaining night.

Following a comical but far too long video intro featuring Cedric the Entertainer, Keys emerged at center stage on a rotating platform, playing her piano doing a snippet of “As I Am” amidst a cloud of smoke. She quickly left her position to strut across the stage while singing opener “Ghetto Story”. The up-tempo songs continued with “You Don’t Know My Name” and “Teenage Love Affair”, complete with a troupe of back-up dancers and singers.

But it wasn’t until “Sure Looks Good To Me”, about six songs into her 30-song set, that Keys finally sat down behind her piano. It was here that Keys was undeniably at her best. Her vocals soared over well-crafted songs from the classically trained pianist. An energetic cover of Prince’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” followed. Keys was very talkative with the crowd, lending advice and telling the young woman in the crowd to reach or the dreams while a stunning rendition of the girl-power anthem “Superwoman” powered the first half of the set.

That’s not to say she couldn’t pull of the diva-like performer role, because there were a few moments where it worked well. Notable standouts included “I Need You”, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again”, and “Go Ahead” – all off last year’s As I Am. Backup singer Jermaine Paul pushed Keys to hit all the right notes during a sizzling duet of “Diary”. And sometimes Keys blended both styles by strutting across the stage and playing a side stage keyboard during crowd favorite “Unbreakable”.

A philanthropist and champion for various causes in Africa, Keys delivered an emotional rendition of “Prelude To A Kiss”, in tribute to the children she often visits in Africa. A stirring video accompanied the song while fans were encourage to text a message to the “Keep A Child Alive” campaign, which then prompted a $5 donation.

Returning to her piano, Keys delivered a pleasing “Karma” before her two of her monster hits, “That’s The Thing About Love” and “Fallin’" closed out the main set with frenzied sing-alongs. Keys shined brightly during an encore “No One”, a song that emits greatness and will be an anthem for years to come.&
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In the context of being an arena-size performer, Keys still has room to grow. But you’d be hard pressed to find a better r&b singer-songwriter at her age. And there were moments during her 100-minute set that were so profound that the idea of sell-out arena crowds in the near future is not far off.

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