There should be a club for New York natives turned Los Angeles transplants, because those who get it, get it. The differences between the two major cities are aesthetically obvious, but there are also energetic elements of New York that are extremely difficult to replicate. So naturally, when the unofficial mayor of NYC, Alicia Keys, slid through to sprinkle a taste of the Empire State onto the City of Angels, I had to be in the audience at YouTube Theater.
The adoring Pink Sweat$ kicked off the affair with “Coke & Henny, Pt. 2,” “PINK MONEY,” and “Honesty.” Radiating the warmth and familiarity of a teddy bear, the 30-year-old Philly native took the stage in a cozy striped shirt, jeans, and slides. His set was just as effortless; he only needed to rely on his mesmerizing voice and soothing acoustic guitar to set a trance. To cap his performance, the crooner serenaded an adorable couple with his enchanting ballad, “PARADISE.”
Following a brief intermission, Alicia Keys ascended onto the stage in a maroon catsuit and a bedazzled braided ponytail. She dove into her catalog of hits immediately, starting with 2003’s shoot-your-shot anthem, “You Don’t Know My Name.” Keys guaranteed that we’d spend the night singing at the top of our lungs, and she kept her promise. With the image of a streetlamp illuminating a New York City alleyway behind her, the 15-time Grammy winner spent two hours making sure no one forgot where she’s from. She even included a reggae bridge breakdown in her performance of the popular ballad, as a nod to her Jamaican heritage.
The high energy segued into a dynamic performance of “Karma” under deep red lights. It was at that moment I knew I needed to chill before I strained my vocal chords like I did when I first saw her live in 2013 at Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, the love I have for this songbird runs very deep.
Thankfully, Keys slowed things down when she performed the amorous tune, “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready),” now under a hue of ocean blue lights. Though the following two nights featured appearances from Khalid, Lucky Daye, Brent Faiyaz and H.E.R., seeing Miguel was a true personal highlight. He joined the woman of the hour for a special rendition of “Show Me Love.” The surprise made two things clear: Miguel is very missed and it’s about time he satisfies fans’ cravings with new music. Such a moment could only be matched if Keys brought out Tony! Toni! Toné! for a live performance of “Diary,” but maybe that’s a dream for later in life.
Before embodying the duality of her latest album, KEYS by turning the show into her own Verzuz , Keys shared a poetic tribute to her hometown.
“Nothing ever been realer on the history of the turntables/I’m the mystery of what’s inside the speaker cables/I’m Nina Simone in the park/Harlem in the dark/I’m the musical to the project fables/I’m the words scratched out on the record label/I’m the wind when the record spins/I’m the dramatic static before the song begins/I’m the erratic energy that gets in your skin and if you don’t let me in, I’m the shot in the air when the party ends,” she recited before dropping a round of air horns.
Now wearing a custom bomber jacket and jeweled durag, fans were introduced to the “Keys’ universe.” She explained that what we witnessed—her being surrounded by several keyboards and equipment—is what it would look like if fans were allowed inside her studio sessions. She played a couple records from KEYS before returning to the classics with “Unbreakable” and “My Boo.”
In a sweet moment, Swizz Beatz came out to lace his wife with a piano medallion before she lit up the room with “Empire State Of Mind.” My native New Yorker leapt out; like Lil Mama when she jumped on stage at the 2009 VMAs. (I for one, absolutely get why she did—it’s just that innate New York energy.)
To close the show, Keys deployed a 25-person choir dressed in all-white for an electrifying performance of “Fallin’.” The catharsis of it all had me on my feet swaying my hands, ready to break out into a praise dance. Yet, it was the crowd singing aloud to the touching love-laced jam, “No One,” that signaled the perfect end to our time in the Keys universe.
In the almost-decade since I last saw Alicia Keys live, this go-round left more of an impression. She felt different, evolved, more in tune with her artistry. And it was beautiful to witness.
The Alicia + Keys World Tour wrapped on September 24 in Nashville, TN with a special appearance from Jill Scott. Relive some key moments below.