The power of Alicia Keys could be felt the moment she stepped onto the stage at NRG Stadium. Keys hasn’t performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo since 2005 and judging by the attendance of 73,660 at this year’s show, she was sorely missed.
Clad in black leather from head to toe, she owned every song as the headliner on Black Heritage Day, starting with the opening number “Karma.”
Keys had the audience moving to a medley of hits including “28 Thousand Days” and “Unbreakable” to the more recent “Pawn It All” and “Blended Family (What You Do For Love)” from her sixth studio album, Here.
I already knew Keys was talented but hearing her live for the first time reminded me of what I like about her as an artist. She brings raw emotion to every word, and I never realized that more than listening to her live on the piano. Each note flowed beautifully into the other as she made an atmosphere that could potentially feel isolated because of the rotating stage seem like she was playing a show for a small circle of friends.
“We’re having a really intimate basement party tonight. And I feel like, if we were in my basement right now, I would want to play a song that sounded like this,” Keys said as she led into “You Don’t Know My Name.”
Keys weaved upbeat songs into the mix, but let’s face it, fans who are familiar with her know, she’s good at getting into your soul on those ballads. “If you’re with me tonight, and you’re here for love, I was wondering if you could help me illuminate the sky with your phones,” Keys said. “Put a light in the air because life is precious.”
The stadium instantly glowed and that’s when she started playing “Like You’ll Never See Me Again.” She took her time with it and from the cheering, it sounded like the crowd appreciated the chance to hit those high notes with her. You know those times when you’re really into a song and you have to hold your ear and raise your hand in the air just to reach the note? It was kind of like that.
She followed up with “If I Ain’t Got You” and later, the song that first put her on the map, “Fallin.’”
Keys turned up the energy – and the heat – with one specific observation about the Bayou City. “That’s what I like about Houston. It’s all warm and toasty, kind of sweaty and sticky,” Keys said playfully, using that as a springboard to dive into the tropical and Latin-beat influenced “In Common."
“Let’s dance. I want everybody to just dance with me. Be free. Let it go,” Keys added with a smile.
Indeed, every move she made reflected the joy that comes from someone who loves what they do. That passion was fed right back to her from the audience as Keys launched into “Girl on Fire” and “No One,” two songs that I even heard people in the packed Press Box belting out.
Keys also worked in “The Gospel,” “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart,” and “Work on It” before ending on “Empire State of Mind,” giving a nod to Houston where she would normally pay homage to her own hometown, New York City.
Right before Keys left the stage, she had one final thing to say. “I want to thank you for your love. I want to thank you for welcoming me here to your beautiful town.”
And if a full stadium is any indication, fans were happy to have her back.
28 Thousand Days
You Don't Know My Name
Pawn It All
Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart
Like You'll Never See Me Again
If I Ain't Got You
Work on It
Blended Family (What You Do For Love)
Girl on Fire
Empire State of Mind