“No, you gotta listen to this, this is dope!” Alicia Keys is asking a rowdy member of the crowd to hush so she can share the story behind her new song ‘28,000 Days’, which was inspired by the surprisingly small number of days in the average human lifetime. If we’re lucky enough to live to 76 years of age, Keys tells us, that’s about as many days as we get, so we should try to make each one count. The horn-fuelled, En Vogue-style blast of ‘28,000 Days’ is one of several impressive new songs played tonight by the 15-time Grammy award-winner and her band, often accompanied by some kind of explanation or anecdote. Later, she introduces ‘In Common’, her hip, tropical-tinged comeback single, with a sweet plea for the world’s “human family” to focus on our many similarities rather than our differences.
Keys doesn’t spend too much time talking, though, because she has a lot of big hits to play for a tightly-packed crowd at London’s Roundhouse and loads more watching at home on Apple Music. She brings what she describes as a “basement party vibe” to a slinky rendition of ‘You Don’t Know My Name’, and welcomes local soul singer Sampha to the stage for a rousing rendition of ‘Unthinkable (I’m Ready)’, the sultry 2009 jam she co-wrote with Drake. With mighty vocal performances from Keys, who also plays piano throughout her 15-song set, ‘Fallin” and ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ both sound like undeniable modern classics. She ends with a crowd-pleasing super-medley of ‘Girl On Fire’, ‘No One’ and her “broken down” solo version of Jay Z duet ‘Empire State Of Mind’ which gets everyone hollering along. When she flips the lyrics towards the end to sing, “There’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in London,” it’s a little bit cheesy but also, to borrow her own word, pretty dope. Tonight is warm, heartening and a welcome reminder of Alicia Keys’ fierce musical talent.