Bayou City

Alicia Keys Puts RodeoHouston In an Empire State of Mind

Alicia Keys Puts RodeoHouston In an Empire State of Mind
Photo by Marco Torres
Alicia Keys
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
March 10, 2017

It’s been more a decade since Alicia Keys performed at RodeoHouston, and a lot has changed since then.

Keys had only two albums to her name when she last headlined – Songs in A Minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys. But between those two records, the New York-born singer-songwriter had already crafted quite a few chart-topping singles, including “Fallin,” “A Woman’s Worth,” “You Don’t Know My Name” and “If I Ain’t Got You.”

Since then, Keys has released another four albums, three of which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Most recently, 2016’s HERE saw Keys challenging her radio-friendly pop sound with more experimental tracks, many of which were significantly more aggressive than anything else in her catalog.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Photo by Marco Torres
On Friday night, in front of a crowd of 73,660 people, Keys put together a set list full of old hits, new jams and enough flair to appease even the most casual fans in attendance. She began her set with “Karma,” the fourth song off her sophomore album. She sang of a lover who had one foot out the door throughout their relationship, who begged for her to give him another chance and another then another. It was quintessential Keys flexing her R&B chops.

Right afterward, she launched into “The Gospel,” one of the most aggressive tracks off HERE. Keys flaunted her ability to blend singing and rapping while regaling the crowd with a compelling story – that of the struggle and hardship experienced by underprivileged New Yorkers.

And back and forth the evening went, with Keys walking a tightrope between R&B diva and tenacious New York artist. Unbelievably, she managed to be both simultaneously.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Photo by Marco Torres
When she was performing her older songs, she seemed to be recalling her former self. She sang faithfully, and her ability as a pianist could never be questioned. But it was the newer tracks — “The Gospel,” “Pawn It All,” “Work On It,” “Blended Family” and “In Common” — that stole the show Friday night.

Keys was true to her work, the crowd and herself Friday night. She smiled brightly, hit the high notes and had fans singing along all evening long. Here's hoping she managed to entice a few concertgoers with her new material, because HERE might be her best record yet.

To close out the show, Keys performed “Empire State of Mind,” an ode to her hometown. She sang of streets that made visitors feel renewed, of inspiring bright lights and the dreams that blossom in such a concrete jungle.

If that isn’t a sentiment Houstonians can connect with, I don’t know what is.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MARCO TORRES
Photo by Marco Torres
The Gospel
28,000 Days
You Don’t Know My Name
Pawn It All
Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart
You’ll Never See Me Again
If I Ain’t Got You
Work On It
Blended Family
In Common
Girl On Fire
No One
Empire State of Mind
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Matt is a regular contributor to the Houston Press’ music section. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in print journalism and global business. Matt first began writing for the Press as an intern, having accidentally sent his resume to the publication's music editor instead of the news chief. After half a decade of attending concerts and interviewing musicians, he has credited this fortuitous mistake to divine intervention.
Contact: Matthew Keever