Alicia Keys, O2 Arena, London – review

It’s called the “Set the World on Fire Tour”, but as its European leg reached London there was little danger of any kind of conflagration; although Alicia Keys and her entourage huffed and puffed, the embers refused to burst into flame. What went wrong?

The answer lies in another question: what happened to Alicia Keys? She emerged in 2001 as a bright new arrival – gifted pianist, smart songwriter, decent singer – but over the years, New York-born Keys seems to have been sucked into the corporate machine, smoothed out, airbrushed and generally made marketable. The trouble is that it just isn’t her. She’s no dancer, but she’s required to dance; she’s no actress, but in this show she was required to perform a tedious little phone-call skit and to chat to us as if we were her best friends; she’s no Beyoncé, but she’s required to be a super-glamorous diva.

In any case, if she is to be an arena-spectacular star, it would be wise to spend some money on the spectacle. This show featured a paltry troupe of four dancers, a set that looked like a series of giant trestle tables with drapes over them, and a measly four-piece band (plus two backing singers). It looked, frankly, cheap.

If all of this is the work of her advisers, then they would be best advised to stick her behind a piano with a proper-sized backing band and let her get on with what she does best, which is singing and playing piano. This she did for the last half-hour of the show, having previously tested the crowd’s patience (it was a busy night for Facebook) with a tedious hour or so of stopping, starting, dancing, mysterious disappearances (a costume change would have been expected, but she re-emerged wearing the same clothes), cheesy self-empowerment monologues and clumpy music.

So when she finally settled down at her piano, she gave us a glimpse of what she could be: a confident singer with a bunch of decent tunes, notably “Doesn’t Mean Anything” and “Not Even the King”. Finally, inevitably, there was “Empire State of Mind”, with Jay-Z on video. Great song. The girl was on fire. But the crowd were on their way home.

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