*7/11 Boston Review*
By Vanessa E. Jones, Globe Staff, 7/12/2002
Alicia Keys began her two-night stand at the FleetBoston Pavilion Wednesday night with an evening filled with class and sass.
With the help of a fabulous 12-piece band, she gave the audience muscular versions of the hits from her multiple-platinum CD, ”Songs in A Minor,” which won her multiple Grammy Awards earlier this year. There was a band-vs.-DJ battle to entertain the audience, while Keys changed from a stylish fedora and a leather top ensemble to a stylishly floppy denim hat and a studded denim vest.
But the concert only truly glimmered when it was Keys vocally emoting to the accompaniment of her black baby-grand piano.
The show began dramatically with a hip-hop version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Then Keys stepped onto the stage from the brownstone stage set, hair in her signature cornrows.
The singer paid aural tribute to the musicians who have influenced her. The band played an instrumental version of Mtume’s soul hit, ”Juicy Fruit.” Keys did a solo version of Donny Hathaway’s gorgeous ”Song for You.” But the concert quickly stumbled as Keys and her band experimented with her own music.
Two of the best songs on the big Keys album, ”The Life” and ”Trouble,” seemed to have had the life knocked out of them because of all the experimentation. The gospel flavor added to ”Trouble” didn’t make the song any more spectacular. Often the band sounded too Vegas, too slick. Sometimes Keys seemed to screech the words rather than sing them. The total effect was to take all the warmth out of the music.
The only song that truly soared during the front end of the show was the Keys version of Prince’s ”How Come You Don’t Call Me.”
She began singing the lyrics at a slow tempo, then kicked up the speed with welcome funk and a triumphant soul shout. It became a workout of a song - a funk-dafied opus worthy of Prince.
Soon afterward, Keys did her audience a disservice by leaving the stage for 15 minutes for the band-vs.-DJ battle. It was cute. Both sides showed some true talent, particularly a talented MC who showcased his awesome beat-box skills. But the people were there for Keys.
So it’s no wonder that the show’s high point occurred when Keys asked the band for a little quiet time with her audience. After it left, she embarked on an enchanting melody that began with the instrumental ”Piano and I,” that roamed into the bittersweet love song ”Goodbye,” and that ended with ”Butterflies” and ”Caged Bird.”
The Keys performance was so gripping that one woman couldn’t stop repeatedly shouting, ”You go, girl!” Audience members loudly sung the lyrics. Too bad the connection didn’t persist throughout the concert.
Nappy Roots, the six-man collective from Kentucky, got the evening started with a hip-hop show marred by a horrific sound system. It was hard to understand the words coming out of the MCs’ mouths. That’s a particularly grating problem when there are merely rappers and a DJ on the stage. It didn’t help that the music was so muddied that all that really stood out was the thumping bass. The group overcame the problems by serving heaping helpings of charm. After all, they are Southern gentlemen.