ALICIA KEYS with GLENN LEWIS at Massey Hall, January 28. Tickets: $39.50-$59.50. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNN
it's rare to see a full house at7:30 pm for an opening act, but Glenn Lewis was due. His Monday set opening for Alicia Keys was something of a homecoming for the Toronto-born, now Philadelphia-based Lewis. After plugging away for years in the nascent Canadian R&B scene, he moved stateside and was welcomed by a major-label deal. His forthcoming World Outside My Window disc is primed to be the first real success for a Canadian soul record in the U.S., and Lewis's transformation from hesitant crooner to full-blown R&B star is already complete.
Backed by a slick eight-piece band, he seemed awed by the fact that he was performing for 2,500 hometown fans, and was unable to say much from the Massey Hall stage beyond a few nervous hellos. His abbreviated performance was much more assured, with Lewis splitting his time between smooth ballads and retro-styled soul.
The three keyboards it took to replicate the album's mammoth production still sounded hollow, but Lewis's epic performance of his current single, Don't You Forget It, could only be called triumphant. Come March, it will be Lewis who will be touring with the fancy backdrop and live horn section.
Maybe on the bus rides between shows, he could chat up Alicia Keys on the virtues of spontaneity and leaving the crowd breathless. On a stage made up to look like a Brooklyn street corner, complete with a working streetlight, Keys and her 12-piece band put on a flashy soul revue that was heavy on filler and cliches from the get-go.
With only one album to draw on, it's not surprising that the 21-year-old pianist would want to fill in a few blanks. Keys's mistake was turning what could have been a compact hour-long show into an often dreary 90 minutes.
Songs were stretched out beyond the breaking point to include skits, interpretive dance, percussion interludes and motivational speeches. She was eventually upstaged by 4-foot-tall Michael Jackson impersonator Freak Nasty, who was ridiculous and fun -- everything Keys wasn't.
Keys has loads of confidence and two stone soul classics in A Woman's Worth and Fallin', and when she played them, the floor shook. Sadly, the moments in between felt awkward and over-rehearsed.