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From the Country Standard Time Archives

The Key of Ladies First tour is Alicia

FleetCenter, Boston, March 24, 2004

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - On paper, the Verizon Ladies First Tour seemed like a great bill. Beyoncé headlining with Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott and Tamia sharing the bill.

The quartet has enjoyed loads of hits, awards and the limelight over the years to make mouths water for the tour, which started a few weeks ago.

But the evening of music did not prove a success on all counts.

The clear winner was Keys, who also was the most divergent performer of the evening. Keys has two well-received albums under her belt with breakout success from the get go with "The Diary of Alicia Keys" and a huge hit with "Fallin'."

An understandable image of Keys would be that she would sit at her piano and keyboards throughout the 65-minute plus set and do her songs without the energy one would have expected from, say, Beyoncé.

But the reality was far far different. Keys proved to be a most spirited performer. She made that clear from the get go where she was on a raised platform toward the rear of the stage and started strutting her stuff.

Keys moved to the piano various times through, offering a different side. The songs tended to be more romantic ballads and jazz flavored, the only time during the evening the nearly sold out crowd heard such diversity. She also could get soulful (a superb reading of "When You Really Love Someone"). Keys stuck a tad too long in the same musical territory on the piano, but that is a small point. A slightly different version of her hit "Fallin" was indicative was not a by-the-numbers performer.

This evening belonged to her, even if Beyoncé was yet to come.

The Houston native, of course, known for her work as leader of Destiny's Child, has been riding high with her "Dangerously in Love" disc and several hit singles, like "Crazy in Love." Not to mention a great live performance with Prince to pen the Grammys last month.

The opening indicated just how high Beyoncé has been riding. Decked out akin to Cleopatra, she came towards the stage seated in a white coach with four henchmen carrying the coach to the stage.

Beyoncé certainly puts out in concert - she sings well. She dances quite well and did so time and again with her backing troupe of male and female singers. She works the stage just fine.

She probably saved her best moment for last with "Crazy in Love" as Jay-Z, who raps on the record and is her main squeeze, came out to perform.

But a few impressions were left from her 65-minute set with hits like "Baby Boy" and "Me, Myself And I" done well. Why perform "Say My Name" and a few other Destiny's Child hits in shortened form? If they're good enough, why not do the whole shebangs instead of cheating the fans?

And did Beyoncé need so many costume changes? This was supposed to be an Beyoncé show, not Cher. During one of the numerous breaks, she introduced a video to show what life is really like backstage by knocking on the dressing rooms of her co-performers. Cheesy and dumb.

Beyoncé also suffered from the same problem as others did during the evening - a muddy sound system with lots of dense bass. She has way too fine a voice to have to compete against the music.

Interestingly enough, the crowd was not exactly fervent for Beyoncé despite occasional attempts to include the throng.

Beyoncé certainly is no slouch, but one also got the feeling she is capable of more. Far more.

Missy Elliott had more than music to compete against. Her almost 30 minutes on stage was filled with seemingly non-stop action and energy throughout.

Sometimes it was hard to tell where one song started and another one ended as the music and staging kept coming.

However, Elliott may have done less singing than her sidekick, who got the crowd going and seemed filled with energy. So did dancers including some backflips.

It was almost as if Elliott relied to much on the extras with loud, not terribly distinctive music and excellent staging through the use of monitors and her dancers to create the desired effect.

Tamia opened singing to backing tracks and helped on stage by two singers and two dancers. She sings quite well, looks great, but the overall impression was not very exciting on songs that did not differentiate very much.

So if one was looking for something different, Alicia Keys was easily the answer.