Written by Killian O’Neil
Photographs by Theo Wargo
Seeing someone doing exactly what they’re put on this earth to do is a rare and beautiful thing. Alicia Keys is no exception to that statement; she has become an icon and inspiration to many worldwide. It’s one thing to listen to her in the studio, but seeing her live is an entirely different story.
I got the extreme pleasure of witnessing Ms. Keys’ performance last Sunday at the Met in Philadelphia. The only natural way to summarize what I saw was comparable to a biblical experience. Genuinely, Keys had a killer opener named Pink Sweat$, an R&B, soul singer, and local Philadelphia native. Unlike most openers for concerts, he held the crowd’s attention from the jump and held it. Pink Sweat$ is just starting in his career, but it is apparent he has a solid fan base that will only continue to grow. He is extremely soulful and still learning how to navigate the waters of the stage.
It was Eight exactly when the set wrapped, and he took his bow. The stage was equipped for the queen herself. Looking around, I was honestly astonished at the crowd’s makeup. It was mainly middle-aged women with their husbands with a bunch of millennials sprinkled in. I was expecting the exact opposite. I even thought I clocked someone in a Lily Pulitzer dress; it was wild.
As the lights dimmed, the crowd grew silent, meticulously paying attention to the stage. A few flashes of light and the back of the stage opened up slowly, and Alicia’s silhouette appeared as smoke billowed out. All you could tell was that she was in a catsuit with a translucent trench coat, stiletto boots, and her infamous long ponytail. As she walked down the steps, her piano “floated” over towards her as if it was under an enchantment. The band accompanying her on stage consisted of a bass player, guitarist, drummer, keys, a backup vocalist, and Alicia’s iconic piano.
Keys opened the evening with Nat King Cole and a spotlight, which illuminated her every move on stage. The energy in the room was already buzzing, and now it was palpable. At this point of the night, I was in complete and utter awe at the production of this performance. I was blown away by the set design. The backdrop of the stage had visuals with different images telling a story for each song. Within the pictures on the screen, there was a corresponding color matching the suspended ceiling. Which would lower or raise depending on the song. It didn’t stop there; the lighting matched the colors used, and fog would catch the lights every so often.
Alicia played every song you could think of, from “My Boo” to “Girl on Fire” and even “Fallin”; it was pure nostalgia with everyone, including myself singing along like it was 2002. Keys brought up various local artists but took it up a notch when she started playing “Empire State of Mind.” At first, she instructed the crowd to pull their phones out and turn on the flashlight and hold them up. As she starts belting out the song, she nonchalantly jumps down from the stage and enters the theater aisle. It started stage left in the orchestra section and went up around down to the other side, and she hopped back up on the right side.
Many times, throughout the night, she made it a point to interact with the crowd and to tell them how important it was to be in the moment and that they could create whatever they desired. She mentioned how at home she felt in Philly and how we always will have a piece of her heart as well.
Alicia Keys wrapped up the night by ending the set with “No One” and came back out for an encore three minutes later with “Like You’ll Never See Me Again,” and her platinum hit “If I Ain’t Got You.” It’s a no-brainer as to why they call Alicia Keys the GOAT. Not only does Alicia have 15 Grammy wins under her belt, but she also holds a larger-than-life persona and lives up to that in her live performance (in the best way possible). This queen not only walks the walk, but she talks the talk.
After the show ended that night, I had to stand and look around to absorb what had just happened. Everything I witnessed that night was done effortlessly from start to finish. Every piece of that concert came together to form a beautiful result. It was a mind-blowing production, the sound team, the band, and Alicia. It was a show I will talk about for the rest of my life. You must listen to Alicia’s “KEYS II” out today, August 12, on all digital platforms.