A sleek black Yamaha piano brought Times Square’s jigsaw-like traffic to a standstill on Sunday night (Oct. 9). Where Broadway and 7th Ave. nearly converge, eager fans filed into Father Duffy Square for Alicia Keys’ surprise concert in the thick of the concrete jungle.
The event, which will be televised on BET Nov. 3, a day before Keys releases her sixth studio album HERE, revisited the Harlemite’s hit melodies from 2003’s “You Don’t Know My Name” to contender for song of the year, “In Common.” Overcome with emotion by the magnitude of performing at such a location, Ms. Keys had to take a quick breather to soak in all the bright lights.
“I can’t believe we are here together right now,” she said to the roaring crowd. The chilly air quickly became a non-factor as the magical night rolled along, not only drawing bystanders from outside of the barricades, but those in the Marriott Marquis peered out the windows from their temporary shelter.
Stirring up the pride and vibrancy of being born and raised in the Big Apple, Keys’ guest performers represent for the city just as boastfully as Timbs in the summer. Her first collaborator of the night was none other than Queens’ Q-Tip, who battled with Keys behind his laptop to see if she could mimic classic hip-hop songs like Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour,” plus their Leaders of the New School assist, “Scenario,” on her piano.
Keeping it within the Queens family, Keys sent fans into a craze when Escobar season returned. Nas cooly breezed onto the stage to rap the first verse off his Illmatic album cut, “One Love,” leaving his fans even more anxious for his reported new album.
Keys slowed it down for a bit, though, to showcase her bellowing vocals beginning with one of her most recognizable songs, “Fallin’.” Even a nearby NYPD officer had to capture the moment on his smartphone, and probably kept his video running when the opening chords to “If I Ain’t Got You” started to silence the traffic. To assist Keys’ melody, Questlove picked up the drum sticks while John Mayer crooned and strummed his guitar.
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Although attendees missed the second presidential debate, Keys stressed the importance of going out to vote next month, and even made sure to let those know that she’s not down with Donald Trump by sticking up the middle finger to drive the point home. “They know that our voice means change,” she said. “If you care about your life, where we are going, and your children, then vote for it, please.”
The evening wouldn’t be complete without NYC’s unofficial anthem, “Empire State of Mind.” Right there, in front of the same red steps where Jay Z and Keys shot the video for their collaborative hit, she brought the ’09 track to life, with a little help from Mr. Carter himself. Hands instantly went into the air once Jay’s opener spilled into the mic.
Following the finale of this epic night, for once, you didn’t mind stopping in your tracks in the one area so many native New Yorkers try to avoid.
HERE is available for pre-order on iTunes.