x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Keys in the songs of life

From rock to reggae, Alicia Keys's concert showcased her varied and deep relationship with music.

Jason Derulo, centre, performed before Alicia Keys at Friday's gig. Sarah Dea / The National
Jason Derulo, centre, performed before Alicia Keys at Friday's gig. Sarah Dea / The National

Alicia Keys brought her Set the World on Fire tour to Dubai and proved that’s exactly what she’s doing. The show at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday night was a showcase of the Grammy Award-winner’s musical prowess in every sense.

A statement white grand piano serving as the focal point of a minimalist set, Keys sang her way through an extensive catalogue of old and new hits from the past decade.

A full band, backing singers and four male dancers – along with Keys’s trademark thrills and improvisation – made for an unquestionable 100 per cent live performance.

Keys is all about the music and left the stage just once for less than five minutes to reapply her striking red lipstick, leaving her more than capable backing singers in charge. There were no set or costume changes for the entire 90-minute performance – just Keys, her piano, passion and music.

Jason Derulo warmed up the crowd before Keys made an appearance around 9.30pm, 30 minutes after the scheduled show start. It’s not that Derulo wasn’t worth mentioning, but his performance was overshadowed by comparison.

A packed amphitheatre roared as the lights went down and a single spotlight picked out Keys holding her signature pose: legs bent, one hand on hip, the other holding the microphone high above her face and head tilted back, two words – New York – amped an already-electric atmosphere another notch.

A taste of Empire State of Mind flowed seamlessly into a techno-edged version of Karma and the show was officially on.

You Don’t Know My Name, complete with spoken album interlude, which she acted out in full, brought the 32-year-old to the piano where she looked at home.

Tears Always Win, Listen to Your Heart and Brand New Me came next and Keys’s sultry spoken introductions made each performance feel intimate and personal. Every note and lyric was laced with near heartbreaking emotion.

The only awkward moment of the entire show was a Black Swan-type ballet/R&B dancer performing flat-footed pirouettes during a beautiful vocal version of Like You’ll Never See Me Again. However, most were so captivated with Keys herself, they more than likely didn’t even notice the moon backdrop and dancer.

A Woman’s Worth went down well with all the independent ladies, followed by Secrets, a very intimate performance of Un-Thinkable and Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart.

From rock to reggae, the concert showcased Keys’s varied and deep relationship with music. The unmistakable opening of Fallin’ was followed by a jazz twist on the song.

“Dubai, we are so excited to be here. Thank you for having us,” said a humble Keys. “To be here tonight with you reminds me how lucky we are and how grateful we should be. I’m grateful to be here and I’m also grateful for my little boy Egypt,” she added as the crowd roared again.

A stunning performance of the new song Not Even the King – Egypt’s favourite, according to Keys – was received in complete silence.

Things got even more intimate when, at Keys’s request, the audience put their mobile phones in the air creating a modern blanket of stars as far as the eye could see.

The stage sprang to life and New Day picked things up again before Keys said her goodbyes, albeit slightly prematurely.

A buzz spread through the crowd, confident she would return for a showdown finale of Girl on Fire – given the name of the tour. The general consensus was correct and Keys reappeared to screams.

Girl on Fire and a full version of Empire State of Mind ended the show but not before the polite Keys thanked every member of her team and the crowd. “Thank you so very much Dubai,” she said repeatedly. “Thank you for such a beautiful night and thank you for the love and support you’ve given me. Thank you for the love you’ve shown my band.

“Always listen to your hearts. Never stop setting the world on fire. Continuously become brand new. We won’t forget you, Dubai.”

The feeling was mutual. It’s safe to say Dubai will remember this show for many years to come.