Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann
Alicia Keys :: 04.07.10 :: Santa Barbara Bowl :: Santa Barbara, CA
On a warm, clear night, rustled by dry Santa Ana winds, Alicia Keys played the official opening night concert of the Santa Barbara Bowl's 2010 season. Keys' last visit to the venue offered a stripped down solo show with just her and her pianos. For all but the most hardcore fans, it was a bit of a sleepy affair, with two hours of solo piano being a bit much for most of us.
The new tour exploded on the opposite end of live music spectrum, something more akin to a Madonna concert. Keys was rolled out onto a darkened stage in a giant metal cage. She began to belt out her hit song "Love Is Blind" through a smoke and strobe light induced haze. Finally, she broke free of her cage and the stage erupted with a massive light show revealing an army of entertainers behind her. Backed by three dancers, three back up singers, two percussionists, two keyboard players, a bassist and a lead guitar player that would have been right at home in a Hendrix tribute band, the ensemble released a thunderous wall of sound.
Switching to a more modern set of keyboards, Keys changed the tempo to a dance-trance-like theme, complete with wailing techno sounds and the four-on-the-floor beat so popular in today's electronic music. Then, she disappeared into the middle of her massive stage set. After a stunning solo by one of the immensely talented back up singers, Keys emerged from the top of the stage in a flowing white gown. She launched into a medley of three tender solo songs. For many of the more demure fans, this was the highlight of the concert. This intimate set, coming at the heels of the opening assault on the senses, was a perfectly timed interlude showcasing Keys' unbridled versatility.
The pace picked up again as the band reemerged and launched into a more soulful R&B mood. Keys continued to perform hits like "If I Ain't Got You," and finally she emerged triumphant in front of an ecstatic crowd for an encore performance of her biggest single, "Empire State of Mind."
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