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Concert Reviews:
Small crowd, big time for Alicia Keys at Joe Louis Arena
 

By GARY GRAFF
For Journal Register Newspapers

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DETROIT -- Alicia Keys flirted with being a candidate for remedial diva school during her Set The World On Fire Tour concert Wednesday night, April 18, at Joe Louis Arena.

The singer, songwriter and pianist changed outfits just once during the hour and 45 minute show -- and wore the same thing throughout the entire main set. Keys's staging was opulent enough, but she only had four dancers in her entourage, and they were only on stage for about a third of the night.

What would Beyonce, Madonna, Nicki, Katy or any of the others say?

Fortunately, the comparatively understated approach is more appropriate for Keys. She's been more about the music since her Grammy Award-winning 2001 debut "Songs in A Minor," and when she has tried to get more bombastic -- as on 2010's heavily choreographed Freedom Tour -- it was an ill fit. But on Thursday, before a paltry crowd of less than 6,000 at the Joe (the world apparently is not burning to see her), Keys deftly straddled the line between intimate recital and big arena showmanship.

Following a tight 45-minute opening set by Miguel -- which included his hits "Adorn," "Do You..." and "Sure Thing" and a Spanish shout-out to Detroit's Mexican community -- Keys made her entrance via silhouette, through a window projected onto a curtain at the front of the stage and singing the chorus hook of "Empire State of Mind," her 2009 collaboration with Jay-Z, before joining her dancers for an attitude-heavy version of "Karma." But she hit the piano -- a white grand that rolled on and off of the stage throughout the show -- quickly for "You Don't Know My Name," acting out the spoken-word portion of the song with one of her dancers.

Keys and company -- including a four-piece band and three backup singers -- offered different looks throughout the nights, as pianos emerged from various places on the stage as she ran through a 23-song repertoire culled from throughout her career. Highlights included a vibey "Listen to Your Heart," emotive versions of "LIke You'll Never See Me Again" and "101," a muscular rendition of "A Woman's Worth" and a spirited, reggae-tinged romp through "Murder She Wrote." Maxwell appeared on the video screens to recreate his duet with Keys on "Fire We Make" from last year's "Girl on Fire" album, while Keys used "Unbreakable" to deliver a defiant post-Boston message: "All the things that can break us -- it's not gonna happen."

Keys began "No One" as a ballad before building it into a full-band anthem, while "New Day," "Girl On Fire" and the full-on encore of "Empire State of Mind" -- with Keys sporting a glittery violet gown and Jay-Z projected onto the curtain -- brought the show to a powerful close. It may have all been for a small crowd, but Keys made sure it was a still a big time -- but not so big that it eclipsed the music.



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