VIENNA, Austria — There she was in Beethoven’s adopted hometown, thrumming away at his masterpiece “Moonlight Sonata.” Her sequined cream composer’s coat was draped regally over her piano stool. Her fingers moved like they were splashing through water. Her eyes were squinted shut in rapture. (Click here for photos from the show.)
It’s no wonder Alicia Keys looked so at home in Vienna on Friday. She may be a New York City girl all the way, but that night the classically trained pianist stomped the ground of her musical roots — and relished in it.
With her piano set before a black backdrop speckled with stars, she delivered a haunting nighttime serenade, playing the sonata’s shadowy melody and arpeggiated chords carefully yet confidently. Though the piece is a standard on her current tour, her performance looked and sounded every bit a heartfelt tribute to one of her musical heroes, whose unlikely company includes Marvin
Gaye and Jay-Z.
Keys’ band gave a nod to Beethoven even before she took the stage at the city’s Gasometer venue, a 4,200-capacity room built inside a gigantic defunct gasholder (uh, yes). The show’s intro began with the legendary “du-du-du-dum”
of the composer’s “Fifth Symphony,” combined with hip-hop beats, jazzy
elements and the soulful wail of her background singers. It was the perfect
opening for Keys, as it not only summed up the mixed bag that is her music,
but also evoked the drama and playfulness she exudes as a performer.
The Grammy-winning singer emerged in pigtails and shades, sporting a cream
bustier and hip-hugging jeans underneath her sparkly jacket.
“Austriaaaaa!” she summoned. “Tonight we’re gonna let it all go.”
The first section of the show featured a handful of high-energy tunes,
including “Rock Wit U,” “The Life” and her rendition of Prince’s “How Come
You Don’t Call Me.” Keys looked as comfortable strutting the stage and
dancing as she did nestled in behind her keyboards, and she shifted back and
forth frequently during most songs. She asserted a fun, sassy attitude,
particularly during the extended “Call Me,” for which she bemoaned the
silence of the phone not ringing to the point of pure silliness.
“There’s nothing worse in the world than being ignored,” she said, breaking
the song down at her keyboards for the umpteenth time. All she needed for her
pity party at that point was a pint of ice cream.
Keys ended the number as she long has in her concerts, by entering a phone
booth positioned on the side of the stage and angrily dialing a seven-digit
number. When a male voice came over the sound system saying, “Hello,” she
slammed down the receiver and stormed out of the booth, triumphant.
“Actually I feel much better now,” Keys said, sitting back at her keyboards and patting her head to ensure that her fury hadn’t messed up her hairdo. “It’s not my fault that he don’t know a good thing when he sees it.”
Not unlike another one of her idols, Mary J. Blige, the 21-year-old Keys is
quite the onstage chatterbox. Though most of her talk is essentially
scripted, she keeps room for spontaneity. When a fan yelled, “Alicia!” during
one of her mid-song monologues, she abruptly stopped, and, with a concerned
expression, answered, “Yes?” Despite German being the native tongue, the
majority of the crowd seemed to understand her when she spoke, responding to
what she said instead of just to the fact that she was speaking. When she
asked, “Tell me somethin’, do you wanna rock wit’ me?” the resounding
response from the crowd was “Yes!”
“She really tries to connect with her audience,” said 22-year-old fan Ursa Linhart, who came from Slovenia to see the show. “She was spectacular.”
Keys’ classical chops and deep vocal range were most striking when she sat alone with her grand piano for a medley of slow songs that began with “Moonlight Sonata.” While she’d spent the first part of the show dragging out
dance tunes into near epics, here she chose to run through several
abbreviated ballads, including “Goodbye,” “Butterflyz” and a cover of Donny
Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” “Yesterday I was feelin’ so down,”
she sang in the opening lines of “I Got a Little Something for You.” “But now
I’m in Austria and you’re turnin’ me around.”
After Keys’ solo recital, her eight-piece band and three backup singers
for another string of party songs. For Tevin Campbell’s “Shhh,” she did a
mock striptease behind a large white curtain, moving her body in mermaid-like
while removing her jacket and hair scarf. In those moments it was hard to believe this was the same girl who frequently complains about the music industry putting pressure on female performers to look sexy. The section also brought “Jane Doe,” “A Woman’s Worth” and a peculiar cover of the Doors’
“Light My Fire” before culminating with “Fallin’.”
“You got me goin’ crazy so much that I’m gonna have to do this a little differently tonight,” Keys said in the midst of her breakthrough hit. As the crowd sang along, her velvety voice and rich piano tones ascended through the vast, airy room. Fingers flaring, eyes shut, Keys was lost in her moonlight.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the world, check out MTV News Tour Reports.