There is no doubt about it: Alicia Keys is an unstoppable force of passionate nature. On November 11th, the day of her “Blended Family (What You Do For Love)” music video release, she performed at Red Bull Sound Space at AMP for a small audience in an intimate, live KROQ radio show promoting her new album, Here.
Keys walked onto the stage exuding an aura of, for lack of a better word, goodness. Plain and simple. If there is anybody that lights up a room with masterful calm and poise, accompanied by a radiant smile, it is Alicia Keys. She interacted with the audience humbly and graciously, asking various members where they hailed from and repeatedly thanking us for coming to her show.
Keys began by expressing the personal importance of her new album, especially in the wake of the recent election results. “I love this album so much. This album, Here, it just means everything to me. It’s perfect timing…if you need to feel like you’re understood, if you need to feel like you’re not alone in this world…you need to hear Here,” she said, giggling at the homonyms. Yes, she giggles. And yes, it is endearing and infectious.
As it was a radio broadcast, the show itself was short and sweet. Playing a six-song set, it was only Keys, her piano, and a bit of reverb on the mic. She remarked that this was her favorite way to play — “Just us and this little piano” — which, I was surprised to learn, she does not sit at anymore. Keys has made it a point in her life to “never sit at a piano again.” Rather, she stands on her left foot, with her right foot on the sustaining pedal. She joked how tired her leg gets, especially in heels.
She began the set with “Blended Family (What You Do For Love),” remarking that good friend John Mayer was the one who told her to put “What You Do For Love” into the song title. Keys (unsurprisingly) played her namesake instrument masterfully, as if an extension of her own body.
Her body vibing with the music, Keys made sure to look at the crowd often, smiling. In this room of approximately two hundred or so people, she performed as if giving a concert to thousands at Madison Square Garden. Her voice was full belt, her singing and playing passionate, and her immersion into her craft undeniable. I was in awe.
For her next two songs, Keys took us back to the earlier parts of her career with “If I Ain’t Got You” from her 2003 (has it really been that long?!) album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, and “Superwoman” from 2007’s As I Am. There is very little that is audibly comparable to hearing Alicia Keys sing “If I Ain’t Got You.” She took vocal and rhythmic liberties that only come in the setting of a live performance, and about half way through the song, I realized my mouth was hanging open and my hands were in the air.
Her final song before the encore was “Holy War.” Describing her thoughts on it, she said, “This is one of the best songs I’ve ever written in regards to capturing what the emotion really is…I love this song for what it says.” Her powerful lyrics sing, “Oh maybe we should love somebody / Oh maybe we should care a little more / Oh maybe we should love somebody / Instead of polishing the bombs of holy war.”
Emphasizing that now, more than ever, life is about knocking down walls and about unification, Keys made sure to inspire and promote love with her spoken words as much as with her lyrics and music. She truly made it a point to spread good vibes throughout the show, repeatedly telling the audience that she loves them.
This is not to place her on an unachievable moral pedestal, as even Keys herself said she has her self-criticism and doubts, just as any of us do. In order to combat them, she stated she makes it a point to encourage herself using phrases she feels she needs to hear: “Thank you, and I’m grateful for all of the things that I have…I start repeating the things that are beautiful around me to just squash the negative voices in my head.”
But even that in itself, being self-aware enough to take action instead of wallowing, makes me admire her even more. It is exactly this self-awareness that marks the difference between stagnation and change, and it is a testament to Keys’ musical successes thus far.
Keys’ encore consisted of repeating “Blended Family (What You Do For Love)” and “No One.” It was odd that she re-sang the first song. I saw several people in the small crowd look at each other in confusion, and I was right there with them. The only explanation I can think of is that Keys’ team wanted to make sure anyone who tuned into the radio broadcast late was able to hear it, in order to promote the newly released music video.
“No One” left several people in tears, including myself. It was the perfect way to end the show. A hit song with powerfully belted vocals emphasizing love and hope, it provided a much needed message in a time that seems to be filled with total discord. After the song, two crying women in front of me turned to each other and embraced in a hug for what seemed like ages. It was beautiful.
I will leave you with Alicia Keys’ final message, and may it carry you forward in your week:
“Thank you for having me today. Thank you for your love. We made it another week. We have each other, and there’s no stopping us; there’s no stopping the greatness. I love you. I love you.”
For more information, please visit Alicia Keys’ website.