It couldn’t have been a better set-up: Grammy-winning sophomore crooner meets fiery veteran. Still, two of R&B’s finest pulled their own weight Friday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center during week three of their Set The World On Fire tour. It was both an impressive show of raw talent and emotional vulnerability.
While Jay-Z and the Brooklyn Nets have christened the Atlantic Avenue venue as home, Miguel and Alicia Keys received a warm welcome from the spectators in attendance: a mix of honeymooners, girls on a night out and Prop 8 supporters, all rubbing elbows and hips in the name of (damn) good music.
First up was the bouffant-rocking romanticist. Anyone who has witnessed Miguel pre-gramophone would know that nabbing music’s highest honor has not altered his show techniques. From the throatiest growl to ear-piercing falsetto, his vocal buffet demands seconds…or thirds.
The dancing only enhances the audio. Kicking up dust with his white tuxedo shoes and James Brown-esque footwork, the crooner makes gliding across the two-tier stage look like a run through the playground. He pirouettes then splits, throws in a couple pelvic thrusts, then swerves again, keeping every movement sharp but still exuding the same sexual spontaneity as his pen game.
Knowing he was in Hov’s house, Miguel had a special surprise up the sleeve of his black blazer, so to speak. Roc Nation signee J. Cole stomped out to a live rendition of “Power Trip,” their first in-person rendition of the soul-hop ballad. Though Cole chose to sit out their original collabo “All I Want Is You,” the pop-up appearance from the Born Sinner was warmly received.
While the singer floated through his Kaleidoscope Dreams catalog sprinkled with goodies from his All I Want Is You debut, Miguel’s most vulnerable moment came before he performed his highly-esteemed hit and Grammy-grabber “Adorn.”
“What’s life but a collection of questions?” Miguel asked the crowd as he expanded on his parent’s life lessons. “Some we choose to acknowledge or not, and answer them ourselves, and the answers define who we are and what we believe in.”
The anecdote seemed an appropriate prologue for headliner Alicia Keys, who traipsed though five albums worth of material, only plucking the most progressive through her journey to her most recent Girl On Fire.
Opening with a montage of the New York City skyline, a pixelated ode to her hometown, the bob-haired songbird let her curves do the talking before uttering a note. Sashaying in a long-sleeve mesh top and black leg-hugging pants, Keys’ shapely curves were only fair warning to her vocal aggression.
Topping off her 80-minute set with “Karma,” the Kerry “Krucial” Brothers-produced cut off the 2003 Diary Of Alicia Keys, Keys switched up her usually sensual showcase for in-your-face symposium. However, she still set the mood aesthetically with a three-screen set-up of a ballerina dancing, the solar system and silhouettes. Even three sets of keys, including a white grand piano, an upright acoustic piano and a keyboard appeared from every crevice of the stage.
Her chart-toppers made their scheduled appearance, such as “No One,” “If I Ain’t Got You” and “Fallin,'” but it was the unexpected goodies and guests that spiced up her Grammy-decorated résumé. Method Man brought his street cred to Keys’ “You’re All I Need” while Maxwell — decked in a fire engine red suit — serenaded the crowd with their heated collaboration “Fire We Make.”
But even with four male dancers and a trio of back-up singers, Keys kept the focus on one subject: the audience.
Before breaking into her self-made anthem “Brand New Me,” she called her fans to embrace “the journey to becoming who you are and letting nobody hold you back.”
Even after Jay-Z made a simulated appearance for his verse via movie screen projection for the closing song “Empire State of Mind” and Alicia emerged in a shimmery purple gown, there was still an ambiance amidst the sea of smartphone lights that only the queen of the night could pinpoint.
“Something about this night is magical,” Alicia said to Brooklyn. “Thank you for bringing the magic.”
Photo Credit: Jason Chandler