Alicia Keys

Keys takes cue from noted ancestors    ·    March 15th, 2005,1299,DRMN_54_3609640,00.html

You should respect your elders, and nobody knows it better than Alicia Keys.

The theme of her show was Uptown Saturday Night, dated Oct. 19, 1931, on the banners flanking the stage. Keys mixed her own modern songs with classics from the Billie Holiday era and beyond, including a wonderfully updated take on Minnie the Moocher.

The elegant set - all drapes, chandelier and big band-era bandstand - perfectly complemented Keys’ own understanding of how music is a continuum - even her most modern-sounding work has its roots in her musical forebears.

She and her eight backing musicians deftly weaved those oldies in with work from her two albums, the Grammy-winning Songs in A Minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys.

Keys’ admiration of Prince goes far beyond inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year and covering his songs. Like many of his shows during the past 15 years, Keys made hers a stylized revue, full of crowd participation, songs flowing into one another and a seamless style of James Brown band-leading.

Taunting the crowd with confident, slow teasing, Keys took more than a few pages out of Prince’s playbook but made it work. Her up-tempo cover of his semi-obscure How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? was a highlight of her first album and of Tuesday night’s show. But her own songs, including Wake Up and Diary, stood shoulder to shoulder with those of her elders.

John Legend opened the show with a smattering of songs from his debut, Get Lifted, including a crowd-pleasing pairing of She Don’t Have to Know and I Can Change - songs about betrayal and apology, respectively. His hit, Ordinary People, was the highlight.

The show was the pop-music debut of the new Lecture Hall in the Colorado Convention Center. It’s not as stern as it sounds - the 5,000-seat hall offered clean sightlines, for the most part, and seemed to have clean sound in both the front rows and the upper levels in the rear.

Keys’ staging seemed a bit cramped in the setup - the speaker towers, in particular, hung a bit low and may have obscured some views. We’ll likely not see KISS in here anytime soon, but for many musical acts, the fit will be perfect.

There is room for improvement, though. The seating is confusing, hampered by low lighting on the aisles that makes it nearly impossible to find a seat when the lights are low (a problem the city already has recognized and is having corrected). And some sort of VIP seating might be a good idea - Carmelo Anthony was besieged by autograph seekers and camera phones.

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