Alicia Keys in London | Live Review

Alicia Keys rocked London’s 02 Arena with a career-spanning performance laden with political and self-uplifting messages that at left audiences feeling like they’d drank a cup of ‘feel good juice’.
Twenty minutes after the audience had been warmed up deliciously by Melanie Fiona, Alicia Keys descended onto the stage in a cage and ’emancipated’ herself while performing the introduction to her latest album, Element of Freedom. The opening stage set was the most elaborate throughout the night, and for the duration of the performance the stage design was somewhat plain. However, there is no doubt that the lack of ostentatious pyrotechnics, stage designs and other proverbial bells and whistles typical to large-scale shows was deliberate – the focus was solidly on Alicia and the music.
And about the music it was. Segueing effortlessly between old favourites like “Falling”, “Karma”, “You Don’t Know My Name” and newer material such as “No One”, “Sleeping With A Broken Heart” and “Unthinkable”, Alicia showed her musicianship, playing the keys on a grande piano, a sampling machine and a key-shaped electric keyboard. Alicia also allowed her exceptional backing singers and band the space to shine too, with one backing singer performing an awing rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” during a costume change.  Other than a burgeoned attempt to get the crowd ad-libbing along to “Wait Til You See My Smile” (an album cut from Element of Freedom), Alicia engaged the audience brilliantly and her attentiveness made the show somehow feel intimate, which is no mean feat when performing to 20,000 people. As an audience member you felt how much fun Alicia was having onstage, which in turn made the show all the more enjoyable to watch and participate in.

Alicia’s philanthropic guise was in full effect throughout the show; she showered the audience with messages like “you can achieve whatever you want to achieve”, “be a rebel with me”,  to the flashing slogans; “[Y]Our tenacity [Y]Our struggle”, pop-art style images of  Ghandi, Bob Marley, Princess Diana and John F Kennedy and a few plugs for her charity Keep A Child Alive, at times I felt like I’d attended a motivational women’s class or a peace rally rather than a concert.

For me the stand-out moment of the night by eons was Alicia’s performance of “Diary”, a killer joint lifted from her sophomore album Diary of Alicia Keys. Duetting with her backing singer, their combined ardency and melodic harmonies sounded better than the studio version (which features Tony! Toni! Tone!).  However, the climatic end left most people buzzing. After leaving the stage abruptly for a final outfit change (all of which did little to dispel the then-rumours of her recently announced pregnancy), she re-emerged to images of New York and gave an electrifying performance of “Empire State of Mind Part II”.
Alicia’s performance threw no curve-balls, the audience got exactly what they expected. While this consistency has contributed majorly to her success throughout the years, it would have been nice to see Alicia deviate from her comfort zone at some point throughout the night. However, because of that same emphatic consistency in Alicia’s brilliant performance, every person left the 02 Arena feeling like they’d drank a large cup of ‘feel good juice’.

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