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March 25, 2010

Concert review: Alicia Keys at 1st Mariner Arena

alicia keysAlicia Keys came uncaged last night at 1st Mariner Arena.

With images of barbed wire fences flashing on the big digital screens around her, Keys was wheeled out in a rectangular cage for the opening number, "Love is Blind."

Keys sang most of the song inside her personal prison, before dramatically bending back the bars and stepping out to freedom.

In case concertgoers didn't get the point, Keys would spend the next hour dropping inspirational lines between songs while the screens displayed words like "Rise Up" and "Fight." The tour, which takes her to the Verizon Center in Washington tonight, is even called the Freedom Tour.

"I don't want anybody to hold you back," said Keys, her legs shimmering in tight silver sequined pants. "Everything you need is right here inside of you." ...

Might as well add "motivational speaker," to her resume, which already includes armfuls of Grammys and millions upon millions of albums sold. Still, all the uplifting messages got old quick. We get it, Alicia -- love ourselves and break free of the chains that bind us. You don't need to beat us over the head with it.

It was a relief when, in the last third of her 90-minute set, Keys put an end to all the positive messages and let the music speak for itself.

"You Don't Know My Name" was a synth-driven high-stepper, and the James Bond theme "Another Way to Die" was built on singeing guitar riffs. But the show's most poignant moments came when Keys sat down at her black Yamaha baby grand and tickled the ivories. She's got a diva's talents without the attitude, and last night, she had a few toys, too.

During "Fallin'," she played what looked like some kind of electronic auto harp, and for "Go Head," she strapped on a silver, key-shaped keytar (how awesome is that?) and traded solos with her guitarist (the guitarist won). Even the piano was tricked out with a wrap-around digital screen, which said "PLAY ME," and when she did, it read "THANK YOU." Heh.

Keys' accomplished six-piece band and a well-paced set list helped the 19-song show fly by. The harmonies of her three backup singers were air tight; Monte Gill showed and proved on "Diary" and one of the female backup singers surprised the audience with an impressive rendition of "Feeling Good" while Keys slipped into a white evening gown backstage.

The show ended on a strong note, with "If I Ain't Got You," a modern classic, and the 2007 mega hit "No One." The encore was "Empire State of Mind (Part II)," a spine-tingling ode to the Big Apple.

In an age when radio is saturated with Auto-tuned anthems and outrageous outfits, it was such a treat to sit down with an undeniably talented singer and songwriter for an evening of liberating R&B, gospel and pop.


The show started at 9 p.m. and ended at 10:40 p.m. Here is the set list:

1. Love is Blind
2. You Don't Know My Name
3. Fallin'
4. Another Way to Die
5. Karma
6. Like the Sea
7. I Need You
8. Pray For Forgiveness
9. Diary
10. Like You'll Never See Me Again
11. Wait Til You See My Smile
12. Go Ahead
13. Put It in a Love Song
14. Unthinkable (I'm Ready)
15. Feeling Good
16. Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart
17. Superwoman
18. If I Ain't Got You
19. No One


Empire State of Mind (Part II)

(Photo by Getty Images)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:27 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Concert reviews


You forgot to mention how horrible the sound was (not just for Alicia but for the whole evening). It seemed like the solution was to just turn up the volume and may the best voice/instrument win. You could not hear the backup singers for most of the show. And if you did not know the words to the songs you were not going to find out last night. I even spoke to the sound guys.VERY DISSAPPOINTING EVENING!

John J, I didn't notice that. Where did you sit?

I know that Sam has concert reviewing duties at the Sun, but it seems to me that coverage of huge national touring acts doesn't make sense on a blog about Baltimore nightlife. Festivals unique to the area and music scenes that are integral to Baltimore venues (Ottobar, Sidebar, Hexagon, Metro Gallery, Sonar, etc) are fair game. But treating an Alicia Keys concert as "Baltimore nightlife" is like considering Outback and Chick-fil-a players in the Baltimore "restaurant scene". Same stuff's happening in every other city.

Good point, dave. Concerts of all shapes and sizes fall under the nightlife umbrella, since they typically happen at night.

There were probably 12,000 people at last night's show, most of them from Greater Baltimore. Should I ignore it just because it was mainstream, and occurring in other cities? Later today, we're going to have a review of Ben Folds' show last night at Rams Head. Should we also skip that?

I'm no fan of chain restaurants, but you can't deny their impact. How many Baltimoreans go to Chick Fil-A and Outback Steakhouse every day? A lot. And like it or not, they're interested in the places, just like many people are interested in Alicia Keys. I recently went back and looked at the 10 most viewed posts on Midnight Sun in the past year or so. At least six of them were concert reviews.

I think it would be one thing if all I did was review concerts. Of the 25 blog posts currently on Midnight Sun's main page, two are concert reviews. That's why I review a concert or two every week. And since I'm the Sun's only music writer, and we seldomly run concert reviews in print, here they are.

Sam we sat on the floor about 30 rows from the stage. We eventually just stood in the back. A friend who sat in the stands had the same experience. The guy operating the soundboard spent a lot of time roaming the audience checking the sound so he obviously knew it was subpar.

I thought is was a good review and glad it was posted. Seeing her tonight in DC and I am sure the Post will have a review as well.
Not sure why Dave thinks these reviews should NOT be posted.

How were the opening acts, Robin Thicke and Melanie Fiona?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm simply being picky and I absolutely acknowledge that the vast majority of the Midnight Sun posts are about things other than large concerts. But...

Your point that 6 of the top ten posts from the last year are concert reviews pretty much makes my point. I think it's pretty obvious that mentions of Alicia Keys, Bruce Springsteen, etc would garner the most hits. Those posts contain wildy popular keywords that are Googled orders of magnitude more often than "Creative Alliance" or "2640 Space". If you (or the Sun's editors) simply need more hits, then coverage of concerts like these does make sense. But from a reader's perspective, this review didn't offer anything that I couldn't have found equivalent or better (no offense) coverage of in Rolling Stone and Spin.

A newspaper, blog, or even a city can either try to be all things for all people, or it can champion things that make it interesting and unique. I'd like a city with quiet self-confidence that doesn't need to announce "Hey, I'm a big time top tier city that pulls in big time top tier acts just like DC, Philly, and NY do". And I'd like that city's newspaper to tell me why that city is cool enough to have that quiet self-confidence. I want to know why I should stick around in that city.

But hey, I'm probably just reading way too much into a Alicia Keys concert review.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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