Wednesday, May 07, 2008

As They Are: Alicia Keys feat. Ne-Yo and Jordin Sparks

Monday, May 5th wasn't exactly a typical Cinco de Mayo celebration, but there was dancing and singing...and drinks weren't absent from the scene either. My roommate and I headed out to the Staples Center (7th/Metro Red Line Station is just a few blocks north) to see the Alicia Keys' "As I Am" concert.

The tour has been in the press lately because of one vocal incident or another - first Jordin Sparks had to rest and then Alicia Keys. But somehow, we managed to get the anticipated line-up by the time it reached the LA area. Each artist, while cozy in the home of mainstream-friendly pop/r&b music, had a different performance - expressing in their own way the title of Miss Keys' latest album 'As I Am'...

Jordin Sparks' set had the air of the newcomer - the semi-familiar music accompanied by a garage band kind of set-up. A mix of a small venue concert and American Idol, Sparks was pleasant to listen to and it was nice to be assured a good live performance (American Idol would churn that out best). I had hoped that with the prescence of Ne-Yo, we'd get to hear a different performance for "No Air" (her duet with Chris Brown), but it was a pared down version - which may have worked out better for me if I didn't like the duet so much. Sparks' first hit single - "Tattoo" - was the obvious crowd favorite and the one everyone could sing along too (which they did!).

Ne-Yo - whose new album Year of the Gentleman drops June 24th - presented his set based heavily on the stylistic idea of the classic gentleman, complete with his signature hats, a band in straight angled suits and fedoras, and women dancers in their elegant best (40% of the time anyway). Like the classic gentleman of film noir, the show is smooth, charming, and definitely exuding sex appeal. The women-centered music provided a showcase for the talented female dancers that bring his words to life (emphasis on the sex appeal). Undoubtedly, Ne-Yo's set begins and ends with the audience understanding perfectly that Ne-Yo is not only a singer and a performer, but also one with style.

I wasn't sure what to expect with Alicia Keys. I've liked her music and particularly love her latest album As I Am. But when the signature persona is a woman and her piano (and a great persona at that) - what else would/could be added? Lights, modern-day doo-wop girls, dancers, Jermaine Paul, a band, and *two* pianos. Her show featured a storyline of a young Alicia Keys discovering the starmaker. This journey leads the audience through a great selection of her songs through all her albums, with key moments framed around her most recognizable hits. Not suprisingly, the starmaker? It's Alicia Keys herself - and as all her themes go, its everybody in the audience who has their dreams that they want to achieve. And this theme carries itself through her show, as the backup vocalists and dancers get their time in the sun, as the audience sings along, as the importance of the woman gets presented, as Alicia Keys' charity against the fight for AIDS ('Keep A Child Alive') has its time, as the children of this charity and the featured Youtube videos of "No One" get focused on the big screen.

One leaves the "As I Am" tour contemplating the differences between three sets of music and in awe of the talents each provide their own unique time and literal song-and-dance number. But perhaps most importantly in this Youtube generation, people leave inspired to figure out what it means to be your own starmaker.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

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