Alicia Keys

Alicia @ TSB Arena, Sunday, December 7    ·    December 8th, 2008

Since her debut solo album in 2001, Alicia Keys has moved away from the straight piano r’n'b balladry that had her pegged as a successor to Aretha Franklin.

She now prowls the stage like a cross between Beyonce and Janet Jackson.

The last seven years have been kind to Keys. The kids still love her, but so do their parents, with a wide range of ages impressed as she effortlessly moves between the two personas: the kitted-up dance routines and the pure piano-and-voice, no-bells, no-whistles approach.

She is better when she is sitting behind the black’n'whites, showcasing her voice; the between-song banter and dance routines are too scripted, too obvious.

Keys’ real strength was always in her vulnerability and that still shows when selections from Songs In A Minor (such as Fallin’ and A Woman’s Worth) are pushed into place.

The material from 2007’s As I Am is more about the product than the song, all shiny and slick (Superwoman), Keys only ever the co-writer, often just the singer. There are still some great modern r’n'b moments, but it is a shame that success as a pop star came at the expense of her vital, raw talent.

The high point of the show arrived early with the Prince b-side How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? It was a showcase not only for Keys but also for her incredible band, three backing singers and seven talented instrumentalists. (I wonder if half of the crowd knew the song was by Prince or for that matter even cared.)

The audience loved every minute of it, with Beatlemania- like screams filling the arena, and the energy level was impressive, Keys working hard and well supported by a super-tight funk/soul combo.

Jordin Sparks won the sixth season of the worst show on television, American Idol. Her opening set promoted her self-titled debut album and featured songs about “cherishing your friends and family”.

She covered Michael Jackson’s PYT, which was preferable to hearing her own lyrical clunkers, such as “how am I supposed to breathe without air”.

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