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Anita Baker

The worst sound engineering in the world marred the first night of Anita Baker's return to the Los Angeles area after a four-year absence. And that wasn't the worst of it.

Band: Everett Harp, Julianne Milne, Leor Prey, O.E. Willets.

The worst sound engineering in the world marred the first night of Anita Baker’s return to the Los Angeles area after a four-year absence. And that wasn’t the worst of it.

Baker, whose reputation for grace and vocal nuance have made her a staple on radio’s “quiet storm” format, was brassy, shrieky and altogether too much during her show, the first of a four-night run at Universal.

Rendered inaudible at times by her 10-member band, Baker broke up the set by yapping like she was auditioning for “In Living Color,” thus trashing her classy image in an ill-advised move to appear “contemporary.” Magic Johnson, Natalie Cole, Andre Fisher and Sugar Ray Leonard were among the celebrities on hand to witness the wreckage.

Baker took some time off to raise a family before delivering her newest Elektra release, “Rhythm of Love.”

The album has so far performed sluggishly compared with past Baker efforts, and likely will not be helped by this concert tour if she continues in the vein displayed at Universal.

The sound mix for Baker’s set turned such numbers as “Sweet Love” and “Good Enough” into virtual instrumentals, the singer making noises that could not be discerned. Baker struggled with her stage mix as well, gamely pressing her finger to her ear whenever she ventured away from the middle monitors.

A mid-set “tribute” to Tina Turner and Diana Ross wasn’t as good as that offered by dinner theater female impersonators, as Baker took up chunks of time to leave the stage and don wigs and gowns for 20-second renditions of “Proud Mary” and “Stop in the Name of Love.” Both versions were paled by the originals.

Strangely enough, the aural cloudiness that marked most of the set cleared for Everett Harp’s fine solo turn on “Jen’s Song,” but returned for Baker’s show-closing greatest hits package, which included “Rapture,””No One in the World” and “I Apologize,” the latter marked by a sound system shriek that was downright painful.

The lone bright spot in the set came early, with Baker doing a tender turn on “My Funny Valentine,” ably assisted by George Duke on piano.

Would that the entire night have been devoted to such quiet interludes.

Popular on Variety

Anita Baker

(Universal Amphitheatre; 6,100 seats; $ 35 top)

Production: Reviewed Dec. 27, 1994.

Cast: Band: Everett Harp, Julianne Milne, Leor Prey, O.E. Willets.

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