MAXWELL with ALICIA KEYS at the Air Canada Centre, October 12. Tickets: $39.50-$69.50. Attendance: 6,000. Rating: NNN
with mariah down for the count and Whitney skeletal and strung out on god knows what, it's about time another solo sista took over the diva duties. Alicia Keys might be the woman for the job.After a bizarre intro by diminutive rapper Freak Nasty, who hyped the Air Canada Centre crowd with a spasmodic jerky dance, the stadium lights faded to black. Keys upped the dramatic ante, banging the ivories while voices trilled "Alicia Keys" to the tune of Beethoven's Fifth. The diva had landed.
And how. Studio recordings don't do that girl's voice justice. Tracks that lacked lustre on her Songs In A Minor disc echoed through the cavernous arena with knock-the-wind-outta-you power, while a trio of backup singers added gospel flavour and doo-wop dance moves.
Girlfriend sure was feelin' the T-dot love. Like any diva worth her Gucci, Keys interrupted the set for a quickie costume change. This was followed by pithy soundbites on the roller-coaster nature of life and romance, along with a goofy stand-up bit about men being dogs.
Keys can work a crowd. And if her music career is cut short, she has a future on the Def Jam comedy circuit.
Keys may have felt the love, but the cheers during her set were nothing compared to the fanfare for headliner Maxwell. The shrieks in the audience registered at least 3 'NSYNC members on the heartthrob scale, which made it difficult to appreciate the la-la Lothario's neo-Stevie Wonder-cum-Marvin Gaye vocal stylings.
Maxwell seemed overwhelmed to be playing a stadium show (last year he wooed Toronto crowds at the more intimate Phoenix) and kept reminding the audience how blessed he was.
Shakin' his groove thang on a set that was equal parts retro bachelor pad and conceptual stereo, Maxwell was the consummate romantic gentleman, stopping short at one point to turn up the lights and accept flowers from a lucky lady.
His choirboy falsetto is spine-tingling, and his supporting band served up some solid funkdafied soul, but 30 minutes in, his "Life is precious baby you're too fine for me I gotta get to know ya" thang grew stale.
I was ready to get down on my hands and knees and beg, "Baby, some variety, puh-lease."