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Story and photos by Andy Argyrakisx Every other year or so, Anita Baker performs in the Chicago area to a sell out crowd, but believe it or not, this summer marked the first in her 30-year career at the North Shore's crown jewel Ravinia. And as expected, she had no trouble reaching maximum capacity in both the intimate pavilion and spacious lawn, giving fans a lengthy evening of her most famous songs.
It was no surprise that much of the night revolved around 1986's breakthrough record "Rapture," which remains the ultimate feather in her cap after selling over eight million copies and being ranked #36 on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Albums Of The 1980s" list. Cuts like "Mystery" and "Sweet Love" transcended time thanks to her pristine vocal preservation, while a five piece band and three equally boisterous background singers gave an even fuller feeling to gems like "No One In The World" and "Caught Up In The Rapture."
As exceptional as Baker and her entourage sounded during the main verses and choruses of such songs, they often meandered with ridiculously long introductions and scat-heavy interludes, while a band introduction segment proved even more tedious. In fact, only six complete songs were performed throughout the first 80 minutes, which meant there was plenty of improvisational fat that could've been trimmed.
Nonetheless, once Baker realized what time it was, she steered back on track with the ballad "Giving You The Best That I've Got," and later, a cover of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep," which even ran circles around that immensely celebrated newcomer. The original "Just Because" was also another example of the veteran's elegant stylings, while the jazzy "Fairy Tales" provided a dreamy bookend to her varied repertoire.
In spite of not being an overly warm performer whose "diva" tag is just as often tied to her pipes as her personality, Baker did have a few amusing audience interactions. She gladly accepted a bouquet of flowers in exchange for a kiss on an album cover (but no autograph) and also rejoiced when someone brought her a small fan to overcome the sweltering heat.
The nearly two-and-a-half hour night also found Baker plugging her forthcoming Blue Note Records release "Only Forever," which marks her first studio project in eight years. If it sounds like the focused parts of this particular show, chances are listeners will find her just as vocally potent as the day she debuted and continue supporting the soul siren's live shows, which will hopefully be tightened up by the next time she rolls through town.
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