by Jennifer Boyer
"Are we in New York City?" inquired Alicia Keys as she walked on stage at the iHeartRadio Theater in New York last night. The singer/songwriter/pianist performed for a crowd of no more than 200 people to commemorate the release of her fifth studio studio album, Girl On Fire. Before setting down at her glossy black Yamaha grand piano, Keys showed off her moves with the upbeat track "New Day."
"Tonight really is so special because there's nothing like being in your hometown," enthused the 14-time Grammy winner. "This album Girl On Fire means so much to me; for it to be here in this world now." Enhanced with enough reverberation and delay to simulate a stadium, Keys continued to set the mood: "Feel totally free with me. Allow yourself to be yourself. We'll take you back and forth and all around."
"Whenever it's raining outside I always like to play reggae versions of this song," explained Keys. "This is about the fantasy. What will you say to that person?" Guests were then treated to a Caribbean-flavored edition of "You Don't Know My Name." A percussive breakdown wrapped up "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart," which seamlessly segued into "Un-thinkable (I'm Ready)." Next, Keys conceded a lesson learned: "It's one of the most important things I've learned," she stated in reference to "Listen To Your Heart." The bossa nova-esque Girl On Fire track had Keys sambaing her hourglass figure to and fro over a Brazilian-tinged piano riff.
Career launcher "Fallin'" transported everybody back eleven years and reminded us why we ever paid attention to the name Alicia Keys in the first place. Keys hit the first note spot on, her voice slicing through the air and hushing the room as she held out the word "I" amid appreciative hollers and whistles. As the bridge's descending vocal runs were sung harmoniously by her two backup singers, the pianist began bouncing up and down on her bench, gearing up for the hit's final chorus and prepping for "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down."
"No One" featured a very special guest appearance by Key's toddler Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean, who wore a shell-shocked expression as mom serenaded him. "This next song came from finding a brand new me," declared Keys after singing the new record's single "Brand New Me" and embarking on its lead single "Girl On Fire." For everybody wondering where Alicia Key's voice went? Rest assured, I found it. Safely ensconced within her vocal chords and proudly on display last night. "I don't think we should go until I play it," said the songwriter before an acoustic "Not Even The King."
In one hour, Keys squeezed in five new Girl On Fire tracks. "If you don't have the album yet, don't worry. You can still go get it," joked Keys with a wily smirk. Undoubtedly, plenty of attendees went home and did just that. "I'm going to go buy the album right now!" exclaimed a fan standing next to me on her way out the door. One last tune - "If I Ain't Got You" - rounded out the celebratory performance as Keys transitioned from world-renowned, classically-trained musician to American working mom as she picked up Egypt, placed him on her right hip and strutted offstage in her sky-high stilettos.
Alicia Keys with son Egypt performing "Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" and "No One" on the day of her album release for 'Girl On Fire' at the iHeartRadio Theater in Manhattan.