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Here's how Alicia Keys managed to perform the most intimate stadium concert of the year
Seminal musician Alicia Keys came to Vancouver last night as part of her Alicia: World Tour and to the surprise of no one, Rogers Arena was all but sold out. Here’s everything you missed—and how she pulled off an incredibly intimate performance to a crowd of thousands.
This seems obvious, in case you’re not an Alicia superfan, here are the deets: She’s a NYC-born singer and songwriter who is known for her classically trained piano skills (hence, Keys). You’re probably well versed in some of her biggest songs (like 2004’s “If I Ain’t Got You” or 2007’s ballad “No One”). But outside of the music world, she’s also an outspoken activist (she co-founded and is the global ambassador for the HIV/AIDS-fighting organization Keep a Child Alive)—and to top it all off, she’s just really, really cool. (To this point, if you haven’t seen her AD house tour, I’ll leave it here. It’s all kinds of inspiring).
“Tonight is all about singing at the top of your lungs,” Keys told the crowd. “Let things go that are holding you down.” This theme of release and empowerment through self-expression rang true throughout the evening—she addressed the crowd directly and encouraged everyone to let go of all the stressors we hold on to. “Being connected after being disconnected for so long,” she continued, “this is exactly how I saw it in my head.”
Opening songs like the 2003 hit “You Don’t Know My Name”(yes, she included the phone interlude) and 2020’s funky R&B hit “Time Machine” got the crowd up, dancing and feeling themselves right away—Alicia’s energy was immediately magnetic.
From dope synth solos to Alicia’s piano casually sliding across the main stage to meet her—her skills as a musician were a through-line for the entire concert. On big screens throughout the arena, images switched from mid-shots of her belting out jams to close-up shots of her fingers dancing across the keys. The transition between acoustic piano sets to her controlling a sequencer during a Tron-esque lightshow—it brought the crowd close, and then quickly reminded us that we were still in an 18,000-person arena. But even during the most electrifying electronic moments—it was Alicia navigating the controls and that felt organic and personal. “This is Keys universe,” she told the crowd. “If you were in the studio with me, it would look something like this.”
Alicia included specific moments that felt intimate and personal to her. From playing her son Genesis’ favourite song because he asked (it’s “Stay” off her 2021 double album Keys II—and she played it half acoustically, and then raised the energy when it cut to Lucky Daye’s more pop-like verse); to celebrating Michael Jackson’s birthday by playing a sick cover of Off The Wall; to announcing that it was “My Boo”’s anniversary. The entire performance was filled with moments that were special to Alicia, and it felt like an honour to be included.
The singer explained that at NYC’s Apollo Theatre, you get to decide who wins when dueling songs are played. She took us back to her hometown by doing the same thing and performed two different versions of songs off of her album Keys II—one original (acoustic) and one from the “unlocked” side (from her MPC, a combo drum machine/sampler).
First up was “Skydive,” where the unlocked version won thanks to its explosive and groovy electronic energy. Next came “It Is Insane,” with a moody, jazzy original and a deep bass unlocked version. In an apparently unprecedented move this one ended in a tie—but no matter how it went, the interaction felt exciting, and it was a fun way to showcase her 2021 album.
The band was incredible: the guitarist had mind-blowing solos (and back-up vocals), the upright bass brought deep groove, the main back-up singer had incredible range, the drummer brought tons of energy and the pianist was electrifying. Alicia’s music not only made space for all these other performers but highlighted them—they were all working together seamlessly, hitting incredibly tight cues and transitions with ease.
Whoever designed the light show for this concert is a genius. They ranged from noir-like moody lighting that delicately swayed across the stage to brash flashes glittering to the beat. The colours, mist effects, video projections (from music videos to perfectly timed live feed) created an atmosphere where each song felt like a pinnacle moment. The crowd was drawn in by moments of visual intimacy, like the use of candles during “Fallin’” and flame projections during “Girl on Fire.”
From Alicia instructing the crowd to sing and use their phone lights during “NY/Empire State of Mind,” to all the cheering encouraged during the voting portion—the crowd was consistently invested. Everyone around me was buzzing throughout the show, and on a Monday night—that’s no easy feat to accomplish.
From moms with young daughters on their laps, dads arm-in-arm with teen sons, best friends and couples dancing along—the concert transcended the everyday life and became a space for empowerment and just great music. And the whole time it felt like it was made just for you.