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Originally published Friday, September 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Six years after "Minor" success, Alicia Keys is a major star

Alicia Keys hasn't been here in six years, since her 2002 show in KeyArena, but it's understandable. She's been busy. Since that show, which...

Seattle Times music critic

Concert preview

Alicia Keys

8 p.m. Saturday, WaMu Theater at Qwest Field Event Center, 800 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle; $35-$100 (206-628-0888 or www.ticketmaster.com; information, www.wamutheater.com).

Alicia Keys hasn't been here in six years, since her 2002 show in KeyArena, but it's understandable. She's been busy.

Since that show, which was based on her debut No. 1 album, "Songs in A Minor," the singer-pianist has had three more No. 1 albums and sold some 28 million recordings. She's also written three books, acted in three movies — including "The Secret Life of Bees," due out next month — and recorded "Another Way to Die," the theme song to the upcoming James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace," with Jack (who wrote it) and Meg White of the White Stripes.

She also made controversial remarks in an interview in the May issue of Blender magazine, saying "Gangsta rap is a ploy to convince black people to kill each other," and that Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. were assassinated in a conspiracy by the U.S. government.

After she lost her grandmother to cancer, the pressures became too much for the self-proclaimed workaholic, and she took a timeout, traveling by herself to France and Egypt. When she returned, she wrote songs for her latest album that were uplifting and empowering, like the title cut, "As I Am," "Lesson Learned," featuring guitarist John Mayer, and her latest hit, "Superwoman."

The album is another remarkable collection of varied songs that show her depth as a songwriter, singer and pianist. She's at home in a variety of genres, from pop to hip-hop to jazz, but everything she does is grounded in R&B, so she can legitimately be compared to such greats as Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

At that KeyArena show six years ago, she had to pad her performance by stretching out the songs from her only album, and turning over the stage to her 10-piece band, three backup singers and three dancers.

But even then, on her debut tour, she was amazingly secure, showing the confidence and sass of a seasoned performer. And she was stunningly beautiful, dressed in glittery gold and silver outfits.

Her new "As I Am" world tour is much bigger, of course, with a full band, revolving piano, filmed segments shown on big video screens, lots of interaction with the fans, and more variety in her songs, including material from all her albums as well as some covers.

She sings songs about her personal disappointments and triumphs, rhythmic numbers meant for the dance floor, sensual songs that sizzle, heart-tugging ballads and long jams with her band. And there are even more costume changes for the star with the supermodel looks.

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or pmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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