Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys, Enmore Theatre    ·    October 27th, 2004

Alicia Keys is no dancer. And for that I’m extremely grateful.

In a time when the multi-discipline pop artist, the singer-dancer-actor-soft drink spruiker-underwear designer, is considered the ultimate, this may seem a strange thing to say. And in certain circles it would be seen as the ultimate insult, far worse than saying you can’t sing (for, really, who needs to sing when there’s computer tweaking in the studio and taped vocals live?).

It is, however, no insult at all in this case. It’s a sign of why Alicia Keys is going to mean a hell of a lot more for a hell of a lot longer than many of her contemporaries.

Let me clarify a bit first: Alicia Keys can dance. She can shake, shimmy and turn better than most of us dance-floor clodhoppers. But not for her the highly choreographed stage moves while wearing a (probably switched-off) headset microphone or those flash-and-dash manoeuvres in the company of some muscle boys to keep you engaged and feeling like you’re “getting your money’s worth”.

In their absence she falls back on strange old things such as stage presence, energy, real singing, great grooves, a live band and honest-to-goodness quality songs. Yeah, I know, what is she thinking?

Well, for a start she’s thinking that if you start your show with three crackerjack funk excursions which show your absorption of Prince’s philosophy, you will have us in the palm of your hand immediately. And damn it, she’s right. By the time the closing notes of that third song, Rock Wit U, had been sweated from us the room was abuzz.

Keys owned this stage. Her voice, while still more pop than soul - she’s barely into her 20s after all, and a real soul voice is probably a decade and several heartaches away - is malleable and strong. Whether in piano-driven rhythmic ballads such as How Come You Don’t Call Me and You Don’t Know My Name, her church-and-bedroom signature tune Fallin’ or the strut of Heartburn she is confidence and style.

Finally, a small point. It’s good to see an artist whose respect for the past extends beyond the ’90s or her producer’s record collection. Throughout the night Keys made sometimes subtle and sometimes overt reference to the likes of the Delfonics, Sly Stone, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Kool and the Gang and Gloria Gaynor while never letting us forget we were in the present. It’s another reason why we’ll be with her in the future. She’s class.

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