Photos of Alicia Keys courtesy of RCA Records.
August 21, 2022 was a beautiful night in Maryland Heights, the super beige not-quite-Chesterfield suburb of St. Louis. The heat and rain stopped taking turns slapping us around every day, and the venue had a cool breeze, a beautiful pink-streaked sky, and a really beatific-looking Black man with dimples.
I was walking back to my seat at the beautiful new Saint Louis Music Park venue and I saw this man standing there, just staring at the sky and smiling. I told him that he looked so handsome and peaceful, and I hoped he was having a good night. He told me that he visited our new National Blues Museum and found it to be amazing and humbling. We kept talking about music and I asked if he was in town for the concert.
“Well, I play guitar for her.”
I’m sorry, you what?
The sweet man I was talking to was Curt Chambers—you know, the Grammy-nominated artist who has played with Chris Young, BB King, LL Cool J, and Dr. Mf’in Dre. He told me the last one when I said he was playing too much and he was too pretty to have to lie. His identity verified (thanks, Instagram), we went on to talk about music. He’s a country player, but loves to play with anyone that he admires and can flow with, musically. I saw that Fancy Hagood liked his post and went on about him. “….yeah, I’ve played with him…”
Melissa says, “Oh, my god, have you heard of Yola?”
So humbly, Curt Chambers says, “I was just texting her.”
Come on, man.
The rest of the night followed that enchanting meet cute moment’s lead. The vibe was “That BREEZE…” while closing your eyes. The heat of the day leaves your skin and the opening tunes are Correct. The band started playing a little (ok, like 40 minutes, but it’s Alicia Fucking Keys, worth it) later than the expected start time, but it was absolutely worth the wait. The spotlight snapped on and I swear to god it looked like a meteor hit the stage.
Dressed in a deep, dark purple bodysuit with a hood, COVERED in a million sequins, Ms. Alicia Keys took the stage, throwing sparkles and light in every direction. She looked like a…Yes. I’m saying it. She looked like a GIRL ON FIRE.
The show was absolutely breathtaking. Not only the energy of the band and Keys, but the visual effects, and a second piano and stage being brought into play. She said, “Tonight is about feeling free and happy and beautiful.” It was absolutely true. She sang to the crowd and we felt her emotions. This was not a performance. There was a stage, sure, but the pageantry was gone. This was a musician at the top of their career. Alicia Keys has upped her game with every consequent move in her career. The crowd was riveted. We were seated on the floor so when everyone stood around us—and stayed standing for the entire show—I wasn’t even mad. I can’t stand because of a disability, so it was the Stranger’s Ass Show with an amazing soundtrack. Honestly, the music was so good I didn’t even care.
“I wanted to have a beautiful intimate experience that we could share,” she told us. “I consider this a beautiful moment right now. We are all living in it right now. Are we feeling free? Do you feel free? I feel good. You can’t let nobody stop you from having a good show. This is a once in a lifetime experience that we’re living right now. I got something so special for you right now”
And then the marimba, funk, island beat, dropped bass, and electrifying electric guitar by Mr. Chambers soared through the night and took us all with it. The band was outstanding. The back-up singer had a soaring, powerful voice, and the bass player and drummer kept us on the beat.
And Alicia Keys—she appeared at a second stage and talked about her new album, Keys. The album has an “Originals” side in her traditional style and an “Unlocked,” more experimental side that includes reinventions of many of the “Originals” tracks. Live, she would play one stripped-down Original song, and then MIXING HER OWN TRACKS, would sing the same song with some funk on it. It was remarkable. The worst part was that we had to choose which one we liked the best. That’s just unfair. They were all amazing.
(Ms. Keys, please stop asking us to pick between two of your masterpieces.)
We heard “Fallin’,” “Empire State of Mind,” and “Girl on Fire” mixed with familiar favorites and brand-new tunes. When she sang “Empire,” the entire audience rose to its feet, and then got the thrill of watching her walk through the venue. (She was preceded by a fella who would not fit through most doorways). She is very tiny but had the attention of the entire crowd.
I wonder if she knows—being both a young artist and someone with 20 years in music—that hearing her sing Empire is iconic. This is Billie Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” for the thousandth time. This is Queen Latifah singing “Ladies First.” We just saw that. We just witnessed it. The we of the crowd never got stale. We never rested. I forgot I needed a cane and danced my ass off. Will regret that tomorrow but not today for a second, and the day after her music will help my soul help my body along.
There was a magnificent drum solo, and at one point, Curt Chambers played “Purple Rain” and made me cry my own tears. It was beautiful. We got a concert within a concert. Come on, playing Prince for us? We were already spoiled tonight, man. This artist played the most amazing version of “Purple Rain” I’ve heard since we lost the Purple One. We became a “We” again, the ones who stayed. Our anticipation for a finale was met with this world class guitarist playing his heart out for us and no. One. Sat. Down.
Alicia Keys dances like she’s in her kitchen and her favorite song just came on. The freedom with which her body moves translated to the crowd and We moved too. We can’t help it because her beat became our heartbeat and we couldn’t move away from this shared moment. We didn’t want to. To the folks who left early, I get it. Babysitters are expensive, and y’all had to work the next day, but I’m so sad that you didn’t hear her end the show with the words “You’re magical, St. Louis, I love you. All you little girls on fire gotta keep shining. I love you.”
And then We left. We had to. The spell was broken. We were left dazed and dazzled and spinning with the idea of her. The spectacle of her. The talent of her. She’s what dreams are made of.
She made Us feel brand new. | Melissa Cynova