She says she’s done. But if last night was any indication, it would be a travesty if Anita Baker does truly retire. Surprise guest Stevie Wonder echoed that sentiment as Baker closed her second sold-out date (Sept. 13-14) at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles with her signature song “Angel.”
“You cannot say goodbye,” a harmonica-wielding Wonder declared to roaring audience approval. “We want more of you and more of you and more of you. I just want to thank you for the love you’ve given us all this time. More than ever in the world today, we need to make love great again.”
Baker’s two-hour show -- the last in her solo, 30-date Farewell Concert Series tour -- was indeed a love fest. As her tight six-piece band (“I call them magicians not musicians,” she said) revved up an already anticipatory crowd with a pumped-up rendition of “Lady Marmalade,” the chanteuse herself walked onstage as her trio of female vocalists chanted “Hey sister, go sister” to a standing ovation.
That set the tone for the rest of the evening. Baker, rocking a sparkly black dress and matching fringed jacket, served up a platter full of unforgettable gems. She began with “Mystery," and followed that with “Sweet Love.” In the latter instance -- and again with “No One in the World,” another track from her 1986 album Rapture -- the audience sang the whole song to her first. A beaming Baker embraced the moment, saying, “This is your band, so sing it like you do it at home.” Then as the audience ended its sing-along Baker slyly asked, “Do you want me to sing it now?” as the theater erupted.
It was like being transported back in time. Baker’s sonorous voice has lost none of its mesmerizing power or luster, and the petite dynamo can still scat and toss out other impromptu riffs like nobody’s business. In addition to boisterous sing-alongs, she had fans shouting out “I love you!” and dancing in the aisles to an infectious repertoire that included “Been So Long,” “Caught Up in the Rapture,” “Giving You the Best That I’ve Got” and a jazzy version of “Same Ole Love (365 Days a Year).” For the latter song, the video screens behind and to either side of the stage showed images of an ‘80s-era Baker video wherein the singer is getting her skate groove on in a roller rink.
Ever mindful that the audience understood how she feels about their support of her 30-year career, Baker dedicated the song “Priceless” to them. “After tonight this song will have a different meaning for you,” she said. “This is your song now.”
Baker also acknowledged younger disciples of her music peppered throughout the audience. Before accepting several bouquets of lilies and roses from various front-row patrons, she said, “Sounds like some of these shout-outs are coming from my millennials," she exclamied. "Turn the lights up so I can see where my millennials are at. It’s nice being your Aunty Nita, but we wouldn’t have the millennials without our OG’s!”
After singing yet another hit, “Good Love,” Baker shared some interesting tri. She had finished recording her 1988 album Giving You the Best That I Got when she first listened to a demo for “Good Love” and decided to record it for the album. “The voice on that demo was Lalah Hathaway,” recalled Baker. “You never know…”
Hathaway, along with Wonder, had surprised the audience at Baker’s show the evening before. Wonder returned the second night to play his harmonica and sing with Baker on “Angel.” A few seconds following his departure, another surprise guest, Kelly Rowland, hit the stage. After bowing down and paying homage to Baker, Rowland briefly riffed with her on “Angel” as well.
Baker kept teasing fans throughout the evening, occasionally finishing a song with a send-off: “Thank you so much. Good night, I’m tired now,” said the 60-year-old with a laugh. But two encores later, the first featuring “Fairy Tales” and closing with “Angel,” it was sadly the end of the night -- and Baker’s last show.
“You and me… here we are again one last time,” Baker told the audience during an earlier point in the concert. “I want you to leave in a place of life and joy.”
Speaking of joy, as concert-goers reluctantly exited the theater, several were overheard quibbling that the singer hadn’t performed one particularly beloved track from the Rapture album, “You Bring Me Joy.” While Baker did bring a lot of joy last night -- and over the last 30 years -- here’s hoping the singer isn’t really ready to say farewell just yet.