It has been several days since I saw Anita Baker live at the Hard Rock Live Arena and I am still walking around mimicking Baker’s sultry alto. Baker performed her retinue of classics, interacted with fans and freestyled her way through a two-hour set of love songs.
I happened to be seated next to a group of young women who only knew of Baker through the adult contemporary playlists of Hot 105. So, while they sung along to radio friendly classics like “Same Ole Love” and “Caught Up in the Rapture,” they were introduced to ballads like “Mystery.”
“She just has this real nice vibe. My mom used to listen to her. So we came out to have a good time and hear her live,” said Jennifer Atwell, 29, of Hollywood.
Baker’s energetic performance was a far cry from her laid back groovy persona. Baker danced across the stage. She covered the entire stage, singing to everyone in the three- quarters-filled arena.
“We are working for you tonight. If you hear something that makes you want to scream, then scream. If you hear something that makes you want to dance, then dance. Do what you feel,” Baker exhorted.
Baker took her own advice and did what she felt. “Caught Up in the Rapture” turned into a 10 minute jam session, with Baker scatting her way through the extended ending. A brief aside here. I know of Baker as an R&B singer, but she scats with the best jazz singers I have ever heard. And I have heard some good ones.
Baker’s voice is a character in itself. Diction is definitely not high on her priority list in terms of singing. Her sultry alto blended together creating more of a mood than a lyric. You know the words; or rather can sense the meaning of her melodious sounds. She weaved in and out of the microphone, hypnotizing the audience.
The hypnotized audience proceeded to dance in the aisles. They must have been hypnotized because some seemed to be dancing against their will, hurking and jerking, searching for the rhythm in Anita’s ad-libs.
Her show was more fun that I anticipated. I kind of figured on a quite, sullen, love-struck diva commanding the stage with a smoky alto. I was so wrong. Baker brought energy, excitement and her mesmerizing voice to Hollywood.
Baker was accompanied by an eight-piece band, including a baby grand piano and three talented back up singers. This gave Baker’s performance a full sound, and when Baker was more blended sound than actual lyrics, the back up singers held the songs together. Baker and this band seemed to have been playing together for a long time. Their chemistry was exceptional and added to the quality of the performance.
Glad I had a chance to see Anita Baker live. I can cross her off my great-singers-to see-before-I-die check list.
Photo by Sayre Berman. Anita Baker