The Keys to successThere was an hourlong, late-night "service" Friday at World Cafe as the traveling Church of the Sanctified Keys made its way to the islands.
Alicia Keys exhibits her vocal
artistry at World Cafe
Review by Gary C.W. Chun
Led by sister Alicia Keys, the club's "parishioners" were rewarded for their patience with a top-notch showcase that proved how much of a superstar she is now and how brightly shines her future in popular music.
And, believe me, that night's sold-out crowd had its collective patience tested to its limits. First off, the patrons of the earlier Jack Johnson concert didn't clear out until 10 p.m., when doors were scheduled to open for the late-night Keys show. This was the first time club manager Dinette Lee and her staff attempted back-to-back shows, and while World Cafe deserves the major props for even pulling this off, maybe it should carefully reconsider possible future repeats.
To say that parking was a problem would be an understatement, with near gridlock caused by cars leaving and those arriving. A line of people stretched out to the neighboring Xerox building fronting Nimitz Highway. On top of that, Keys and her band (ably made up of music director and keyboardist Onree Gill; backup singers Michele Matlock, Paul L. Green and Jessica Wilson; guitarist Artie White; and the diminutive Wayne Mitchell, a k a "Freak Nasty") went through the usual pre-concert sound check, finishing around 11:30 p.m.
After that, it was up to radio personality Big Tease and his deejay, both from sponsoring station I-94, to keep the crowd pumped, with Keys' own burly bodyguard casually tossing out welcome bottles of water to outstretched hands.
FINALLY, at 1:10 in the morning, a collective roar went up and portable camera flashes started popping as Keys came onstage, with a snappy chapeau perched on her doo-rag-covered head and dressed in a spangly spaghetti-strap top and jeans. Still filled with the natural sass and exuberance she showed during sound check, she proclaimed, "We're going to have us a good time, believe me!" And she meant it.
After the introductory "Piano & I" (with a little Tchaikovsky thrown in to show off her classical training), the "service" properly started with a full-bore rendition of the latest single off her multiplatinum debut, "Songs in A Minor," the gospel-rooted "A Woman's Worth." And she sold that worth with the full support of her vocal trio. "Oahu is not playin'!" she said in response to the crowd's very hearty approval.
She then informed the crowd that Prince himself had asked her to perform with him in his hometown of Minneapolis, but instead she gladly opted for some needed downtime in Hawaii. That naturally led into her cover of Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me," as she generously gave up some vocal time to showcase the fine voices of both Matlock and Wilson.
Keys got up from behind the portable electric Kurzweil piano placed center stage, waving to and glad-handing some of the people crowded at the lip of the stage, while Gill vamped. She then launched into "Jane Doe" (unfortunately, the overall sound was especially shrill for some reason).
Back to her piano she went for a quiet and soothing interlude before segueing into a simplified version of her breakout hit "Fallin'." It's here that one realized the power of this well-schooled 20-year-old's vocalizing. Compared to her chirpy contemporaries, the girl can just flat-out sing! Listening to her melismatic skills makes you feel you're in church, the gospel soul so strong that it doesn't matter whether the love she's proclaiming is secular or religious.
Now Keys was genuinely enjoying herself. "I like y'all!" she said with a chuckle. After accepting a lei from a fan, she added, "Excuse me for cursing, but y'all the s---! I feel very welcome."
She then got the audience to participate in a hip-hop-inspired cutting contest, spurred on with the help of Mitchell, who played the role of the loopy jester/rapper that evening. The show with her band ended with an especially declamatory "Girlfriend."
But the best and crowning moment of the long evening was saved for last. Her encore number was an impromptu "Someday We'll All Be Free," a song she sang on the nationwide telethon to raise funds for Sept. 11 victims.
Channeling the spirits of both the song's writer, Donny Hathaway, and the legendary Aretha Franklin, she surpassed in some moments even her performance on television. She has certainly made the song her own. Her performance was so strong and so right that even the distraction of the club's Varilites going hither-dither couldn't lessen the moment.
"I will be back," she promised, and what a pleasure that would be for us all.
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