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Concert Reviews:
Anita Baker gives home town crowd the best she's got at DTE

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- As her annual DTE Energy Music Theatre concert careened towards its conclusion Saturday night (Aug. 28), Anita Baker tried to figure out what song to perform next. "We have a list," she noted. "We have a schedule."

She could've fooled us.

On Saturday, as is her wont, Baker was as loose and improvisational as the jazz music that's among her primary influences. About the only thing set in stone was the opening number, "Mystery;" after that, everything from song selection to arrangements was up for grabs as Baker and her nine-piece band worked gleefully, skillfully and sometimes frustratingly without a net over the course of nearly two hours in front of a home town crowd that was both exuberant and tolerant.

That kind of approach, of course, can make for a hit-and-miss affair, but what made Saturday's show work was Baker's engagement in the proceedings. Despite her frequent complaints about the on stage sound mix -- giving the audience an unintended primer in some technological lingo -- Baker, sporting a short black dress, was present within the songs, wrapped up in the melodies and delivering passionate, powerful performances of favorites such as "Sweet Love," "It's Been You," "Been So Long," "Same Ole Love (365 Days a Year)," "No One in the World," "Lonely" and "You Bring Me Joy," the latter of which provided a showcase for saxophonist Gerald Albright.

Baker also returned "Giving You the Best That I Got" to the set after, she explained to the crowd, leaving it on the sidelines for awhile due to her divorce. And at another juncture she grabbed a fan's sign requesting three songs and led the group through unprepared partial versions of "Talk to Me," "Priceless" and "Good Love." "This happens at home," she told the DTE fans. "Not everybody gets to call 'em out like that. You guys are special."

Baker's between-song patter, meanwhile, was as much a part of the performance as the music. Alternately chatting and musically vamping her ad libs, she accepted flowers and other gifts (including a package of Oreos), sang "Happy Birthday" to those who were celebrating, spoke about Michael Jackson and the "fine line when normal crosses over to genius." She thanked fans for their patience (the show started an hour later than the 8 p.m. advertised time) and for their continued support.

And when Baker spotted a front row fan named Michael's sign asking "May I have This Dance?" -- and took the flowers that clinched the deal -- she had him brought on stage where he waited in the wings until Baker brought him out for a quick two-step during "No One in the World." "It's been a long time since a gentleman asked me to dance," she quipped.

It was shambolic and episodic and entirely seat-of-her-pants -- exactly what the vast majority of concerts are NOT these days, in other words. With the voice and the personality to pull it off, Baker delivered an evening that was musically engaging and as individual as it was idiosyncratic.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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