Wednesday, August 06, 2008

As Alicia Is

"That woman has been talking sexy to you all night," Yvette observed. "And in front of me!"

That woman was pretty shameless, I have to admit. "Nothing can stop us from feeling good tonight," that woman told me in her sultry, syrupy voice. "Nothing can stop us from being together tonight." Sorry, Yvette. I guess that woman just couldn't help herself. That woman, of course, was Alicia Keys, who Yvette and I watched last night (August 5, 2008) when she performed at the SMX Center at the SM Mall of Asia. "You're the only reason that I'm here!" she shouted out loud. For some reason, the 15,000 other people who happened to be in the SMX Center shouted back, as if she was addressing all of them and not just me. Tsk tsk. Poor deluded crowd.

It's great that Alicia Keys came to the Philippines again, especially since I couldn't catch her the first time; if I recall correctly, I was interviewing Kitchie Nadal for PULP magazine that same night, in front of a bar on Palanca Street. (That was the same year that Slipknot was supposed to come over, and chickened out. There were lots of jokes in the PULP office about Alicia Keys having more balls than all nine Slipknot members put together.) So a second visit was a good thing. But first, the bad news: the last-minute change of venue -- the concert was originally supposed to be in an open field, which, considering the weather, would have been a real risk -- resulted in some major fuckups, organization-wise.

The SMX Center is a great venue, though perhaps better suited for trade shows and conventions and occasions like that than big concerts. The way the audience was divided -- according to the three major entrances -- meant that there was a HUGE empty gap between the Bronze section (in other words, the cheap seats), and us middle-classers in the Silver section. I felt bad for them, actually. They could barely see the gorgeous Ms. Keys, at least aside from the huge projector screens. Then again, we could barely see the gorgeous Ms. Keys. When we got there, it turned out that the seating arrangements were so haphazard that the numbering system for the seats had been completely disregarded, and it was every audience member for his or herself, which naturally pissed a lot of people off. We kept getting assured that order would be restored and our seat numbers respected but it never happened.

In retrospect, I should have just grabbed a couple of monobloc chairs and steamrollered my way through to the front of the section, leaving a trail of broken bodies in my wake. Yvette and I ended up sitting in a spot with a great view of the giant pillar between us and the stage. (We found a better spot later, to the side.) If my tickets hadn't been complimentary I would have been really pissed off. It was just really bad organization. And then the concert started almost two hours late. An hour or so you expect, in the Philippines. Two hours is pushing it. ("This is not the way it's supposed to be!" the man sitting behind us lamented, as if to a cruel and uncaring Creator.) And if they were going to make us wait for two hours, then why not make some effort to fix the seating problems? Oh well.

Those factors -- the idiocy of the seating arrangements, the scattering of the crowd over too huge a space (with the cheap-seaters -- traditionally the most excited and excitable section of the audience, way way in the back), and the lateness -- all contributed to a dampening of the crowd's mood. But then Alicia Keys and her band went onstage, and for a moment we forgot all that.

Much as I enjoy her videos, here's something I never fully appreciated before: Alicia Keys is a fantastic performer. She gives it her all, singing the hell out of every song, shaking and thrusting her hips, whipping her ponytail around, doing kicks like she's David Lee Roth and seducing the crowd with her in-between banter like she's Barry White. Her material, it has to be said, isn't all strong -- she has yet to come up with a solid album with no filler-songs -- but she works that material to the best of her considerable abilities. And did I mention that she's gorgeous?

Alicia kicked off with "Go Ahead" from her latest album As I Am -- big brash opener, grabbing our attention -- then segued into one of her most popular songs, "You Don't Know My Name," improving greatly on the recorded version through sheer energy and a reggae-fied outro. And then "Teenage Love Affair," wow. My current favorite AK song, rendered as sweetly and as poptastically as you please. I couldn't imagine how she could follow that up without the energy level flagging, but she did, with "Heartburn," which is not as strong a song, but it's a sight sexier. Raising the temperature, so to speak. Those first four songs made up one of the best, most riveting concert beginnings I've ever seen.

The middle of the show was almost inevitably a bit of a letdown. The weariness and frustration of the hours beforehand seeped back into the audience, while Alicia played her slower, less compelling material, letting the songs stretch out instead of delivering them like one-two punches. This was where she showed off her talented band and backup singers, letting each of them take the spotlight as they played with such numbers as "Karma" and "How Come You Don't Call Me." Things picked up with a cover of "Tender Love" (done as a duet with Jermaine, one of her singers) and then AK stepped back from the piano, said something along the lines of "Time we had a little fun," then launched into what I believe was a modified version of "My Boo" (I could be wrong; it's been a few years since it was on heavy MTV rotation). "I can't believe she hasn't played "If I Ain't Got You" yet, I told Yvette. Then I realized she was saving it for last.

AK and her band did crowd-rousing versions of "No One" and "If I Ain't Got You" to wrap up their show (after mock-leaving to inspire the audience to chant "We want more!"). AK thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm -- though believe me, that crowd would have been much louder and livelier if not for the glitches -- and said, "We can't wait to come back!"

Well, I can say that seeing Alicia Keys perform live is well worth it, and that we were happy to be there, in the end (though we did seriously consider leaving during the whole seating fiasco). Just hope that the next show is glitch-free.

GMAnews coverage here.


wysgal said...

I got to see Alicia Keys in Singapore last weekend and she was absolutely lovely. She was the headline act for Singfest ... but her song choices were questionable. After over 8 hours of the festival, the crowd was generally exhausted and trickled out slowly as she played really slow mellow songs close to midnight.

Concerts in Manila are usually a pain because of poor logistical planning ... and I would have been irritated as hell if seat numbers were not followed. What I do like is that the Filipino audience is one of the most appreciative ones I've participated in among the concerts I've attended around the world. =)

Luis K. said...

She does need more consistently strong material to bolster her live show. Since she always has about two to three killer songs on each album, another couple of albums ought to do it. ;) But also, I don't think she can sustain that burst of energy she uses to tear through the fast, exciting numbers; there's always going to have to be a lull.

(I realize that I'm so used to watching multi-act gigs with short sets from each act; a 3-5 song performance has totally different demands from a full concert of course.)

Of the big-venue concerts here I've been to fairly recently (MCR, Fall Out Boy, etc), this was the only one where such a seating snafu occurred. It was really annoying, and I think it did put a damper on what would otherwise have been a totally appreciative crowd.