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Interview:
Anita Baker Gets Caught Up In The Wreckage Of DTE Concert
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Nearly halfway through her annual homecoming concert on Saturday night (July 12) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Anita Baker told her fans, with pride, that "we don't have a script. I've never had a scripted show in 20 years. It's boring."

It's also risky, and some of those risks bit the Grosse Pointe-based singer on Saturday, making things as messy as they were musical and more shambolic than spontaneous.

The eight-time Grammy Award winner was filming and recording the concert and blamed "technical difficulties" for beginning a full hour after the 8 p.m. start time. Those problems also got the best of the curfew-busting two-hour and five-minute show, which never achieved any kind of flow or stride. Instead the disappointingly small crowd saw an obviously distracted but still engaging Baker doing her best to keep things on the rails and give those who came something to talk about.

Unfortunately much of the chatter was not about the mostly solid and occasionally transcendent song performances but the glitches that came between them, from having to repeat the ending of the opening song, "Mystery," to Baker's microphone, which was hot to the point of distortion and was feeding back at high school talent show frequency. Baker never seemed fully comfortable with her dress, a black number with a long lace shawl that often interfered with her heels, and she made several references to the sound on stage, which was too bassy for her liking. She was flustered enough that she identified one of her songs, "Just Because," as being from the wrong album ("Compositions" rather than "Giving You the Best That I Got").

There were points where Baker didn't help her own cause, either. Always chatty to a fault -- which, when it's working, can make a big amphitheatre seem like a tiny jazz club -- her comments on Saturday seemed looser and more meandering than usual. And she would have done better to squeeze in another song rather than pay homage to several TV news personalities who came to see her, bringing the show to a halt, even, while one of them was escorted from an already prime seat to a position on the side of the stage.

For all of that, it was far from a wasted evening. As rocky as things were Baker's vocal performances stayed strong as she swept from murmurs to crescendos and tricky melodic counterpoints, subtle but sharp support from her nine-piece band, particularly guitarist Phil Hamilton and saxophonist Rodney Taylor. Focusing on her biggest album, 1996's "Rapture" (seven of the 14 songs, including the first six of the show), Baker front-loaded the show with hits such as "Sweet Love," "Caught Up in the Rapture," "Same Ole Love (365 Days a Year)" and "Giving You the Best That I Got."

But things got most interesting when she abandoned the prepared set list and began calling audibles, hopping straight to standards like "My Funny Valentine" and absolutely nailing "Body and Soul." An attempt at her version of the Carly Simon hit "You Belong to Me" came up short when the band didn't know it, but "Watch Your Step," "Just Because," "I Apologize" and "You Bring Me Joy" sounded liberated, as if Baker recognized what the evening had become and all that she could do about it is sing.

And coming back for a past-curfew encore rendition of "Fairytales," which undoubtably cost her a few thousand dollars in township fines, was a classy move, a nod by Baker -- who had promised earlier that she'd play the song -- to a crowd that stuck by her through an odd but certainly interesting evening.



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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