Alicia Keys is playing by her own rules. Though small venues are probably the last place you would expect to see a multi-platinum artist, the 15-time Grammy-winner wants to get closer to her fans — literally.
Keys played the TroubadoUr in Los Angeles Wednesday (July 20) for an intimate presentation of some of her new music. The show however became more of a testimony to where she been and plans to go.
“I specifically wanted to do a show like this because this is how close I wanna’ be to you,” she told a tightly packed house of devoted fans (one of which had a tattoo of Keys on her forearm).
Though the setting was indeed intimate, the Troubadour is robust in musical history. Particularly in the area of legendary women in music with everyone from Aretha Franklin to the late Janis Joplin blessing the stage.
Keys described the vibe of Wednesday’s show as a throwback basement party — which in this case meant hot and sweaty at times, strong drinks, fried food, and no cell phones aloud. “I wanna' thank you for giving up your cell phones,” she said explaining that her intention was to let fans just enjoy the music without distractions. “I want us to have this time together.”
Sprinkled among the venue’s VIP area were the likes of Pharrell and BET executive Steven Hill, alongside a mixture of industry piers , journalists, publicists and more.
Keys debuted what she called “the best music I've ever made,” assisted by Young Guru on the turntables, two back-up singers, and a band. Meanwhile, Keys, a classically trained pianist, stood at the piano for an hourlong sound voyage that included 2001's "Fallen" and her latest single, “In Common.”
The newer records played in a setlist right along side some of her classics, and null of titles. Instead, Keys flowed from one concept to the next, threading redemption and wisdom next to embolden lyrics like, “Everybody got a past, but you can never go back.”
Without the bright lights and a huge stage, Keys simply let the music be the main attraction, while she presented herself with what has become her signature natural look: makeup free, and a cascade of curls pouring through a colorful head wrap.
Whether you’ve noticed or not, there’s been a transformation in the native New Yorker since she released, Girl on Fire, her first album after giving birth to her eldest son, Egypt Dean. Keys welcomed a second son with Swizz Beatz, Genesis Dean, in December 2014, and despite the aforementioned LP not selling as well as it’s predecessors, Keys wasn’t quick to pump out another studio release. In the time between this album and the last, she’s been testing different sounds and concepts, taking on a more socially conscious groove, and learning to express herself without fear.
“No matter what we look like, believe in who we love…I celebrate individuality, I celebrate diversity, I celebrate you,” Keys told the Troubadour audience.
That confidence is something she exudes, perhaps without even knowing it. Amid ongoing social and racial injustice, Keys is not only using her voice to make music, but she continues to raise HIV/AIDS awareness through Keep A Child Alive, and speaks out against police brutality by way of the We Are Here movement.
But for all that she's done with the platform allotted to celebrities, the stage is still her sweet spot. As Keys explained to the crowd, “The thing that brings us together is this good music.”