A Play By Play Of The Alicia Keys Tour

April 21, 2008Temple University's Liacoris CenterPhiladelphia, PAIt's 7:12, nearly 30 minutes since I’ve sat down with an exhausted but ready-to-go Ne-Yo for a 15-minute conversation, and I'm already sitting on the edge of my front row seats, excited to no end. My anticipation meter is bubbling over the top for just a glimpse of the multi-talented, walking, talking “Heaven on Earth” R&B elite Alicia Keys. “Kid in the candy store” move over, you couldn’t touch what I am about to witness with my eyes. At 7:21, opening act, Jermaine Paul takes to the stage with an acoustic guitar strapped to his back. Hold up, wait, stop the tape. Wasn’t the beautiful American Idol winner, Jordin Sparks supposed to be opening for this show? I made a call to realize that I was late on the news. Jordin suffered from an acute vocal chord hemorrhage, which could result in permanent vocal chord damage. I sure hope that she pulls through. Best of wishes on a speedy recovery, cutie cakes.Back to Jordin Sparks’ replacement. Jermaine has sung background for Alicia for the past four years. And he came right out of the gate displaying his vocal range to a crowd that was still lining into the arena. From first listen, I picked up on the fact that Jermaine grew up on the sounds of R&B group, Jodeci; more specifically, K-Ci. He also has this Tyrese type of appeal to him; he was fearless, precise and passionate. I’m sure that these qualities are the reason why he backs such an amazing singer as Alicia.Jermaine entertained the crowd for ten minutes, with three of his original songs. By the end of his set, there were many smiling faces that were clearly impressed by the young man. With a little more exposure, he has a chance of coming up the ranks. We’ll see…It's 7:35, when eight sharply suited men (grey suits with white ties) walked on stage in succession, bring an air of entertainment that only the ‘50s and ‘60s could muster up; the Rat Pack is back! Soon after, they were followed in by amazingly fit female dancers wearing all white suit jackets with lapels, covering one piece bikinis, finishing off the look with white top hats and canes. Then, the gentleman of the hour hits the stage, amidst the roar of the early crowd in attendance. Ne-Yo strolls on stage dressed in a black suit with lapels, white vest and tie, black cane and top hat, and immediately springs into his latest single “Closer.” “Closer,” a track that Ne-Yo himself deemed as pure House music, brought some of the young ladies that looked on, showing off their footwork in aisles for their favorite gentleman.For the next 20 minutes, Ne-Yo eased into his role as the man of the hour, banging out some crowd favorites that weren’t singles. So while some audience members that obviously didn’t buy the album tapped their feet, others were singing at the top of their lungs, word for dynamic word.But once he flowed into “Sexy Love” the pace of the audience picked up as young ladies and gentlemen in the crowd screamed out lines like, “That’s my sh*t” or “Ne-Yo, I’ll be your sexy love.” 8:05 - Ne-Yo hits the stage in an all white suit with matching fedora. The track for “So Sick” rang through the arena and heartbeats picked up a notch. Looking to my right, there were two older Caucasian women that began nodding their heads to the tune. “What is his name?” One of the women that were obviously there for Alicia asked me. “His name is Ne-Yo,” I answered, without giving her a crazy look. “Wow, this Ne-Yo is a great performer, I like his music,” she says with a smile. “Maybe you should buy his album, it won’t disappoint,” I tell her. “I just might do that, young man,” she answers. She must be old, if she’s calling me young!Another ten minutes go by, and Ne-Yo is becoming stronger, even livelier on stage. He is extremely serious about his craft. No one in attendance would believe that when I talked to him over an hour ago, he was catching a power nap when I walked into his dressing room. This is big business in the flesh. And he would tell you that he does it for you. That it’s all because of you. And with this hit of the same name, he leaves the crowd in awe.He walks up the center runway stage to the heart of the crowd and touches every hand that reaches for him. Screaming fans would hand him notes, drawings and wait, phone numbers? That’s the only thing I believe that can be written on a napkin that small.8:19 - Ne-Yo exits the stage in my direction, notices me in the crowd and gives me one of those cool points of the finger. I guess he wasn’t as tired as I thought. Until I turn around saw two beautiful woman gushing like a bunch of giggly school girls. Get’em Ne-Yo, get’em!9:00 – On the large screen above the stage, a scene in a church begins to play. Lo-and-behold, Cedric the Entertainer is the Pastor. Wow, it’s about that time for my future Nurse’s Aid to hit the stage. I’m so close to the edge of my seat that I’m surprised I haven’t hit the floor yet.Center stage opens up and out comes Alicia Keys sitting in front of her best friend, a Grand Piano which is able to 360 as she performs. I don’t know which is sexier; the fact that her curly brown locks of hair are halfway down her back or the fact that she rules her instrument of choice with an iron fist. She’s wearing the black with silver sparkles, the tightest black pants (that my mother warned me about), and 5-inch heels (yes, I counted).She opens up her set with a rendition of “Ghetto Story,” a song that she did a duet with Reggae artist, Baby Cham a little over a year ago. Alicia is magical. Flanked by two gorgeous back-up singers, she blends amazingly well within the mix of harmonizing as well as being a gracious leader. What? You don’t know her name? She’ll make sure that you do before she’s done with you.9:19 - Alicia sits down at a grand piano, but not before letting the crowd know how important it is to be herself. She is becoming a success within the industry, the right way. And she didn’t have to take the longer road to do so.Alicia goes for the gold as she effortlessly grooves out to “How Come You Don’t Call Me.” The lyrics come to a life in such a way that she stands up from the piano and gives this look that draws the loudest cheers of the night. Really, how come you DON’T call me anymore? The ladies felt her plight; a hand on the hip, two flips of the hair; a sharp look to the left then to the right. She was in total control. We're yours Alicia, do as you may to us. 9:34 - This is when I realize that it's no longer about chronicling the night, song by song. This is about emotion. Alicia leads by example in her own lane. The energy that she gives off grows exponentially before your eyes. And have you ever noticed that when Alicia goes deep into her vocal ranges; deep into her lyrics that it's as if she's making love to her music? She’s beginning to build up a lil’ glow… some would say that it’s because she’s under the bright lights. I beg to differ…that glow is all thanks to passion to please her fans. She makes every dollar spent worth the purchase. Taking nothing away from Ne-Yo, because he was phenomenal on stage, but Alicia’s level of performance almost made it seem like Ne-Yo was the best added bonus ever. They both make this show the best ticket in town. Alicia just makes sure that you’ll enjoy her like you’ll never see her again.She takes a brief moment to talk about her cause, www.KeepaChildAlive.org (Let’s Start a virus to end a virus). You can check it out once you get the time. It’s worth the visit.10:03 - “Like You'll Never See Me Again” turns an already excited audience into a Karaoke fest. Near the end of the song, Alicia requested that all cell phones are lit and raised into the air. And I’m telling you, everybody in attendance had one. It was a sight to behold.Remember Jermaine Paul from early on in the evening? Well he hit the stage with Alicia to do a cover of “Tender Love.” And if the ladies weren’t impressed with Jermaine before, he blew their you-know-what’s off. With Alicia tickling the ivory, Jermaine went toe-to-toe with her and didn’t miss a beat. Ladies were jumping out of their seats for him. He could run for President if he wanted to, after this performance. Speaking of running, being the night before the Pennsylvania Primaries, Alicia surprised the crowd by taking a break to show her support for Senator Barack Obama. The crowd loved her even more.10:23 - Almost an hour and a half into Alicia's set, she is still going strong. What goes around comes around for sure. The theatrics portrayed by her back-up dancers make it that much easier for Alicia to command her rightful thrown at the piano. And by 10:34, she kept falling in and out of... well, you know. With a spritz of James Brown's “It's a Man's World” as its underlay, Alicia's powerful entrance into mainstream superstardom brought the crowd in attendance to its knees. While her back-up singers stepped it all the way out for the bridge, Alicia gave it all that she had and we were better for it.10:40 – Alicia comes back to the stage to end the show like “No One” else could end the show. The crowd sung so loud that Alicia could had placed her microphone on the floor, sat down and listen to one of the biggest hits of her career play out beautifully.Is it over? Please don’t tell me that it’s over. I honestly don’t believe that I’ll witness a better show this year. But I hear that the Louis Vuitton Don Kanye and Ms. Eh Eh Eh Rihanna have done a beautiful job on their glowing tour. Not to mention, Ms. No More Drama and the Barack Obama of Rhymers tearing it down. But you know what? Ne-Yo and Alicia left all that they had on the stage tonight in Philly. Don’t wait for your Stimulus checks to come in before you buy a ticket to this concert. You’ll be glad you did…