Chaka Khan’s announcement last month that she was voluntarily entering rehab to battle an addiction to prescription painkillers sent her fans into a worried frenzy.
But, as expected, she returned to the stage Friday night to an Atlanta crowd that was determined to nurture her and with visible gratitude to be performing again.
As her crackerjack five-piece band poured out the intro to “Do You Love What You Feel,” Khan, a shimmery sight in black with eggplant-hued hair, blew a few kisses and waved some greetings at the nearly sold-out audience at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
Though it took her a couple of songs to find her comfort zone – her terrific trio of backup singers handled the heavy lifting on the ‘80s synth twirler “I Feel for You” – by the time Khan reached the soulful bop of “Papillion,” she was engaging in a sideways dance step, shaking her mountainous mane and unleashing those patented Chaka shrieks.
The nuances of Khan’s vocal range were registered intact on the sparse ballad “Love Me Still” (which she noted she wrote with, “this idiot") and she barely had to move to send the crowd into an excited frenzy at the first notes of “Sweet Thing.”
In the first half of the 75-minute show – during which her band played without her for about 20 of it – Khan didn’t seem as if she would acknowledge her recent personal struggles and kept her patter to rote pleasantries such as, “It’s good to be back in Atlanta. It’s been a minute, huh?”
But after her too-lengthy break, which gave fans the opportunity to hear the drumming mastery of Ronald Bruner Jr. as well as the other musicians’ taut skills as they played “Through the Fire” and a couple of instrumental jams, Khan, 63, addressed the crowd.
“I want to thank you all for your prayers and your loving wishes,” she said. “God is good.”
Though she had just changed into a pink sequined top with matching thigh-high boots, Khan was barely back onstage long enough for it to matter.
A sultry, snare-dusted version of “My Funny Valentine,” complete with tempo shifts and scatting, was a vocal highlight of the show, while the squiggly funk of “Tell Me Something Good” and exuberant disco sheen of “I’m Every Woman” kept the audience happily dancing at their seats.
Khan has a handful of concert dates slated for August, including her next stop on Sunday in Atlantic City. Fans can be assured that she's back in form.