Lisa Fischer is the most extraordinary vocalist you might experience in concert. And then she gets even better during the second show.
That was the case Monday night when Fischer returned to the Dakota Jazz Club for two sold-out performances. If the 83-minute opening show was a knockout – a perfect 10, then the closing 73-minute gig was more perfect -- a 12 or 13.
Best known as a backup singer with a show-stealing role in the Oscar-winning documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” Fischer decided to sit out the Rolling Stones’ current Latin America trek even though she has traveled with them on every tour since 1989. She opted to tour with her own trio, Grand Baton, which last performed at the Dakota last spring before the Stones rocked TCF Bank Stadium.
Fischer, 57, is the ultimate soul singer, not in the R&B sense but in her ability to reach deep inside her soul and deliver those emotions with her voice. She inhabited songs on Monday, translating them with her demonstrative hands, interpretive dancing and wondrous voice, reimagining the most familiar tunes by filtering them through her wide vocabulary of jazz, R&B, rock, gospel, pop and even classical.
For Fischer, it wasn’t ever about the melody, it was about the emotion and the communication. She didn’t even have to sing all the right words because her spirit conveyed her intentions.
She was very in the moment. For example, in the first set, she used a few vocal lines from “Superstar” (once a hit for Luther Vandross, for whom she sang backup) to introduce her lone solo hit, 1991’s Grammy-winning “How Can I Ease the Pain,” a haunting, full-body tour de force of loneliness.
In the second set, Fischer introduced it by talking about how there were times when she didn’t feel worthy to perform the song. Then she started singing about looking for love in all the wrong places, a line from an old Johnny Lee country song from “Urban Cowboy,” before finding her way to all those aches and pain. At song’s end, she sounded totally drained. Even the audience had to exhale.
Actually, in the second concert, Fischer was looser, earthier and more energetic. Maybe she held back a bit during the opener to save something for the second audience. It must be a gut-wrenching marathon to get through all those deeply emotional songs.
But Fischer and Grand Baton summoned the spirit in the nightcap. Aidan Carroll’s jazzy journey on bass provided the intro to “Miss You” but once J.C. Maillard’s guitar kicked in the song sounded more like Led Zeppelin than the Stones, who wrote and recorded the disco-y hit in 1978.
All four performers cut loose on a version of Robert Palmer’s 1986 MTV classic “Addicted to Love.” Fischer shook her shoulders like Jagger and turned the song into a Stones-evoking southern funk. Seldom has a singer seemed so alive and liberating in the intimacy of the Dakota.
Fischer and Grand Baton closed the second set with “Gimme Shelter,” which is her signature song at Stones shows but didn’t even make it into Monday’s first concert. She has completely reinvented the piece into a slow art-song, a mesmerizing meditation on love, with a strong spiritual undercurrent.
By the end of 10-minute rapture, she had transported the audience into another plane, another consciousness. There was no need for an encore. Instead, Fischer walked around the Dakota, hugging fans – embracing, heartfelt hugs.