AU ABROAD

Live Review: Alicia Keys + John Legend - Allphones Arena (11.12.13)

Alicia Keys’ rise to the A-list of the music industry is still fresh in my mind; ‘Fallin’ was absolutely everywhere, ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ went down as one of the best modern love songs ever written, and ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ did wonders for both her own and Kanye Wests career. That was in the early 2000’s, and ever since then Alicia Keys has been swinging from strength to strength. A prodigious musician with a knack for song-writing, Alicia cemented herself as one of R&B’s best. Despite knowing how far she has come, the greatness of Alicia’s performance somehow still caught me completely off guard.

An equally impressive support slot came from John Legend, whose velvety vocals melted into each and everybody in the sold-out arena. Another grammy-winning artist who rose to prominence with a piano-driven ballad, Legend made sure his vocals were the clear-cut star of his set and he did this with a fairly low-key band.

The suave way he strutted across stage surprised me, and put to rest any notions that he was just going to sit at his piano and sing. Legend was dancing around and playing up to the fans like a seasoned performer, but his voice was always the centre of attention. A smooth cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ was show-stopping and remained the high-point of his set until he bid us farewell with an extraordinary performance of ‘All of me.’

Legend’s set list was superb; he went back to his acclaimed debut quite a few times, and even if ‘Let’s Get Lifted’ didn’t translate as well as it should have, gems like ‘Used to Love U’ and ‘Number One’ had everyone two-stepping and singing along.

Even though the highlights always came when it was just him and his piano, the band never over-stated themselves and always added an extra oomph to seductive numbers like ‘Alright’ and ‘Tonight,’ as well as that always-reliable party jam ‘Green Light.’

As good as John Legend was, he did seem a bit out of depth with an arena show; much more suited to an intimate venue. This is why his upcoming show at Sydney Opera House will undoubtedly be a truly special occasion.

Set List

Made to Love
Tonight (Best You Ever Had)
Used to Love U
Alright
Love in the Future
Let’s Get Lifted
Number One
Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen Cover)
Save Room
Save the Night
Who Do We Think We Are
Ordinary People
Caught Up
So High
Green Light

Encore

All of Me

On the other hand, Alicia Keys has grown into quite the performer, adapting her power ballads and hip hop-infused soul jams to the size of her massive ‘Set the World on Fire’ tour, bringing a whole heap of charm and confidence to round out her jaw-dropping performance.

The band mixed in Nas’ ‘N.Y State of Mind’ with that iconic hook for ‘Empire State of Mind’ to start things off in a big way. Alicia appeared in the spotlight wearing a silver crop-top and hip-hugging grey pants to let her vocals soar; taking us through a brief performance of the Jay-Z hit before jumping into her own ‘Karma.’

Nestling onto her pristine grand piano, Alicia segued into ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ and followed up with an unexpected shot at performance art with her faking a phone call to a man and doing a pretty good job at acting like a nervous wreck. The slow-burning bounce of ‘Listen To Your Heart’ came soon-after; Alicia grinding her hips on the spot in an entrancing rhythm to complement the drum pattern.

Unlike the majority of her contemporaries, Keys avoids the flashy stage productions and opts for a more modest package of singing and the occasional dance; she tones down the overt sexuality of similar divas, and goes for a much more sophisticated take, simply dancing around as if no one’s watching.

A small backing band was enlisted to add more meat to songs like the quintessential ‘Fallin’ which was given an extended performance, completely satisfying those which hold the song near and dear; the band also touched-up ‘A Woman’s Worth’ into a rock anthem to get the crowd on their feet. ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ and the triumphant ‘Brand New Me’ were the night’s highlights though, and the only moments the audience sat completely quiet, soaking in the raw emotion of the ballads as Alicia’s face made her seem absolutely absorbed in the moment; her eyes tightly shut and her face conveying how much the lyrics meant to her.

‘Girl on Fire’ had Alicia banging away at a huge floor tom before closer ‘Empire State of Mind’ had her leave the stage to change into a dazzling red dress. The celebratory New York anthem had a superimposed Jay-Z rapping an introduction on-screen while Alicia gracefully delivered the performance with aplomb.

Set List

Empire State of Mind Part II
Karma
You Don’t Know My Name
Tears Always Win
Listen to your Heart
Like You’ll Never See Me Again
A Woman’s Worth
Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)
Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart
Fallin’

Encore 1

When It’s All Over
Limitedless/Murder She Wrote (Chaka Demus Cover)
Unbreakable
Brand New Me
If I Ain’t Got You
No One

Encore 2

New Day
Girl On Fire

Encore 3

New York State of Mind

Cover photo by Jason Li for The AU Review