It is safe to say that after the Alicia Keys Fourth of July performance on Thursday night, the audience went home satisfied. Keys performed all her hits, the band was a blast and together they enchanted the 8,000 concert-goers at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv.
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It already appeared from the start of the evening that most Alicia Keys fans were females of all sorts. From the somewhat religious to the hard-core secular, from young girls with Girl on Fire ringtones to women who dragged their husbands or kids along to the concert, they were all in the crowd. Overall, there appeared to be a female to male ratio of eight to one. The photographer complained that there weren't any celebrities in the audience or anyone else to photograph. The degree to which the crowd was straitlaced was extremely impressive. No pot, barely any beers to be seen, a quiet audience in which one can hear the noise of iPhone camera clicks before the performance.
The concert began to the sounds of Ethiopian Israeli musician Ester Rada as the warm-up act. Indeed, Rada warmed up the crowd with her excitement and polished sound, accompanied by seven excellent musicians. Rada had a stage presence much greater than the limited amount of time in the she has been in the spotlight would suggest. She began her set with a venue one-third full and finished it in front of a packed venue of fans. Hats off to her.
After the video screens at the arena deluged the audience with a loop of video clips in which the star of the evening advertised all the companies and non-profits of which she is part, at 9:45 P.M. the diva appeared onstage to a hip-hop remix of the song Empire State of Mind. Accompanied by a polished posse of both a male back-up singer and a female back-up singer as well as four dancers, Keys captivated the audience from the first moment and the hits began to flow from A Woman's Worth to You Don't Know My Name.
The thing with Keys is that she is primarily a singer-songwriter, more Roberta Flack than Beyoncé, more Nina Simone than Rhianna. So the parts of the concert which weren't Keys+piano+band seemed stiff, theatrical and a bit stretched. The semi-erotic dance segments by the four dancers, the theatrical gestures, sexy costumes, video clips that didn't contribute anything to the song – all of these Keys really didn't need. Consequently, the best parts of the performance were when Keys sat next to the piano, sinking her teeth into some good songs with much to offer in the way of harmonies and melody and less running around onstage surrounded by dancers trying to dramatize the meanings of the songs in a vulgar, campy and pointless manner.
The surprise of the evening came roughly 45 minutes in when Israeli pop musician Idan Raichel came onstage. Along with two of his own musicians Raichel performed with Keys a medley of her first big hit Fallin that flowed naturally into Raichel's song Mimamakim (From the Depths). Raichel, a skilled musical chameleon performed well and Keys and her band connected well to it leaving the crowd ecstatic. It just goes to show that sometimes it's actually the moments that don't go into the rigid set-list that pay off the most.
After Raichel's surprise appearance, the performance lost a bit of focus with a strange duet between two back-up singers to a Marvin Gaye song and afterward some reggae with Murder She Wrote that was performed rather weakly by Keys, the band and (again) the superfluous group of dancers. Toward the end of the performance, things picked up a bit with a nice rendition of No One (with Keys' two-year-old son onstage) Girl On Fire and crowd-pleaser Empire State of Mind with a Frank Sinatra opening and with Keys in an an elegant red evening dress.
The lady still had enough energy to deliver a short speech to the audience about being true to yourself, to follow your heart, we all have the same dreams, and other American New Age cliches and thanked the audience which embraced her back. Keys left the stage with Shalom Tel Aviv and 8,000 people returned home satisfied to the babysitter who also probably has Girl On Fire somewhere on her iPhone.