Short, sassy and to the point, Alicia Keys follows up on the promise of her debut disc with a finely tuned performance that will soon be knocking folks out of their seats when she hits the road opening shows for Maxwell. The latest Clive Davis discovery is a charismatic performer blessed with the ability to create fully fleshed out R&B, the kind that her parents grew up on — Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Donny Hathaway — and the sort of music that should soon be dominating the pop charts.
Over the course of an hour, Keys ran songs together, even starting with Beethoven’s Fur Elise and flowing into her own “Rock Wit You,” one of her most finely honed ’70s R&B odes on her J Records disc “Songs in A Minor.” Her command of a crowd — sold out for two nights, natch — was immediately evident as she slithered through the always dangerous move of playing a ballad, “Troubles,” as the second number. Again, the instrumental voicings, her inflection and, to some degree her demeanor, echo Marvin and Donny — her articulation has evolved considerably in just the few months since she was playing showcase gigs for invited guests.
The subject matter for this 20-year-old New Yorker is typical — love songs kindled with sexuality and, in some cases, the reverse — and on her biggest hit, the No. 1 “Fallin’,” one can even find triteness in the lines “I never loved someone/The way that I love you.” But in pop music it’s the way you say it, and Keys sends forth these simple lines with a been there, done that conviction that intoxicates the audience. Overall, her music has a far greater capacity for audience sing-along than does the latest from Janet Jackson or Destiny’s Child, and one has to figure that that quality greatly increases her chance of increased acceptance.
Her sleeveless black leather jumpsuit and braided hair adds to the presentation; her often subtle piano playing turns heads as well. The show is marvelously complete, with no signs of padding or inconsequential banter — a rarity among hip-hop/R&B acts, many of whom have unfortunately felt the need to repeat worn-out antics such as asking the audience to scream or wave their arms.
She says she wants to be the next Stevie Wonder. Here’s one vote saying it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Keys takes part in Maxwell’s seven-venue romp through New York City starting Friday at Roseland, then Sunday at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Monday at the Beacon Theater, Aug. 24 at City Center and Aug. 25 at Madison Square Garden Theater.