alicia-keys_web.jpgAfter spending the first few minutes of her show in a cage, Alicia Keys used the remaining time to express just how free she is during “The Freedom Tour,” which rolled into the sold out AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday, March 27.

Keys’ intended message for the show felt more like an underlying theme that she hoped would resonate with her fans.
“I feel that the element of freedom is such an important thing…We have to remove any doubts in our mind. Any feeling of fear in our minds,” she told the diverse audience that sang along, on its feet for most of the show.

The concert opened with a video montage of world events and images of respected world leaders, and a recorded statement from Keys aimed smack dab at the naysayers who doubted her ability to carve out a successful career, which began when she burst onto the scene with her 2001 hit “Falling.”

During the ten years since, the 29-year-old former Columbia University student has released three more studio albums, has sold over 30 million albums, and has won 12 Grammy awards. Despite Keys’ commercial success, her ascent to the top of the music industry has drawn a yin/yang combination of acclaim and criticism.

While some music critics deride her songwriting skills as weak, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers honored her with its 2005 Songwriter of the Year award. And although her voice has been noted for its strength, it has also been assailed for veering off key during live performances.

Off-key or on, Alicia Augello Cook (Keys is her stage name) is thankful for the opportunity to sing.

“We feel extremely blessed to be able to share this night with you, to be able to share this music with you… It is a blessing,” the self-described “renegade” said.

Keys sashayed seductively across the stage during the 90-minute show that featured songs from all of her CDs. Backed by a talented, six-piece band and three very capable background singers, Keys featured a set that included two costume changes, one into a slinky white gown for the second half of the show.

During the concert that was heavy on light messages of self love and love for each other — a distracting video of nonstop text and images flashed behind, beside and above Keys as she performed. Thankfully, the images stopped temporarily as the classically trained pianist took her seat at the baby grand to perform a few of her ballads, among them her hits, “You Don’t Know My Name” and “Diary.”   

Keys rounded out the show with a really nice encore performance of “Empire State of Mind,” drawing cheers from the audience with her occasional substitution of “Miami” for “New York,” in the hit she recorded with rap superstar Jay-Z.

Anthony Hamilton opened the show with a solid performance that was finger-snapping and head-bopping.  If Keys’ opening act has not already been a featured act, he undoubtedly will be in the near future.

While opening acts frequently play to smaller, late-arriving crowds more interested in the main performance, Hamilton’s appearance was clearly a factor in the crowd’s near-prompt arrival.

“I appreciate you coming early enough to check a brother out,” Hamilton said.

Photo by Sayre Berman. Alicia Keys