Bonnie Raitt is smokin’ hot.
It’s not just her flaming red mane that does it; or the way she lifts her arms and sways her hips to the beat with a killer ax draped around her shoulders. It’s her raw but mature talent, sincere connection with the audience and true class visible in every aspect of her performances. It takes serious confidence for a center-stage act to remove her hands completely from her shiny strings multiple times throughout the show to let the talent around her shine unobstructed by their superfluous additions. Raitt doesn’t need to dazzle with flash--she does it naturally.
The show opened with a subdued, but supremely emotional, set from Marc Cohn who played favorites including the especially appropriate “Listening to Levon” and the stunning “Walking in Memphis.” Genuine and gracious, he told short stories about the songs, joking throughout the tiny tales. Draped in a blue-and-purple light, Cohn looked like a natural extension of the piano and when he rose to stand center-stage to sing his final tune, he used the distance to and from the microphone to amplify the effect of his voice. His sincerity was charming and his love of Raitt was obvious.
“She looks good from where you are,” he said. “But from the side of the stage--it’s a phenomenal view. Say Amen!”
There was a quick switch of stage scenery to prepare for Raitt and her band--the legendary Mike Finnigan on organ and keys, Ricky “The Groovemaster” Fataar on drums, Hutch Hutchinson on bass and George Marinelli on guitar. A rack of guitars was wheeled onto the stage and space was made for the beloved redhead.
From the moment Raitt stepped a foot out, she captured the full theater, which had risen to its feet. It was the first
standing ovation of many throughout the night.
Raitt commanded the performance like a professional from the start. She was completely cool and comfortable and ripped confidently into the first number, the first track from her latest album, Slipstream (on Raitt’s own Redwing Records) released earlier this year. The seriously funky “Used to Rule the World” sprung to life as Raitt delivered, “Dr. Feelgood / sleepin’ on a concrete bench / can I get a witness?” showing off her still-sexy pipes. At 62 her voice shows no fatigue, but rather a richness that comes from life whipping it into shape, not with vocal exercises but rather life experiences.
She served up steaming helpings of slide guitar solos, proving her prowess as one bad ass lady when armed with some glass on her finger, but knew when to step back and let her band takes its shots. Finnigan made it quickly obvious why he’s played with everyone from Crosby, Stills and Nash and Etta James to Jimi Hendrix and Taj Mahal with his flawless command over the keys. He’s a powerful player who frees funk through his fingers with every forceful punch to the black and whites. But no one stole too much of the limelight as Marinelli let it rip multiple times throughout the show, offering a harder rock style to Bonnie’s firm slide moves.
Raitt conquered songs from all points of her career, which now surpasses 40 years. She was effective in taking well known numbers like “Something to Talk About” and infusing them with a new energy, proving her growth as an artist, but without sacrificing the golden qualities that made that song a Top 40 hit. With every, seemingly effortless vocal run or hit of a note, Raitt proved she’s still got it, or maybe, that she’s got it more than she ever did before.
Dressed in lightly flared, dark jeans and a shiny button-down shirt, the songbird/guitar goddess kept up the pace, slamming her guitar down at the end of each song, drawing the lights down with her. The only point of rest came when she needed her costume change--a fresh application of lipstick while still standing at the microphone.
Guitars flew around the stage as Raitt tossed on a different one with the help of a stage hand for each tune. Some made repeat appearances, but never for more than a few minutes.
The Bob Dylan song, “Million Miles” glowed as Raitt and the boys gave it new life by reviving it with her strong voice and a deep dive into its jazzy sway. “Come to Me” from 1991’s ground-breaking Luck of the Draw (Capitol) bounced with renewed vitality and “Take My Love With You” tugged the tears out of moist eyes. Raitt dedicated the song to “people in love who are separated…physically” and especially to mothers and grandmothers,.
But one tear-jerker wasn’t enough. Her stunning rendition of the John Prine tune “Angel from Montgomery” likely tore hearts out everywhere and the first tune of the encore, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” did it all over again.
The show took a full-force turn when Raitt stepped aside to let Finnigan take all the stops out and rip into a howling blues number that had him pounding on the organ and swapping solos with the fierce Raitt. And the final song of the evening saw Cohn and his guitarist return to the stage as the large group of musicians delivered one last powerful tune, sealed with a kiss between Cohn and Raitt who revealed her sadness knowing it was Cohn’s last date on the tour before Mavis Staples switched in.
With the final ringing note, the audience erupted, as it had periodically all night, and Raitt took a long few moments to take it in. Her gratitude was obvious--for the energy of the audience that night, the companionship of Cohn, the flowers an audience member had delivered to the foot of the stage and for the loyalty her fans showed in following her career for so many years.
Raitt is a prime example of how it’s done right in the industry. She’s what Faith Hill wishes she could be and what Grace Potter could potentially work to as she and Raitt both share that strong, rough-around-the-edges voice that can hook listeners indefinitely when delivered right.
The performance was real, talent-drenched and classy and the only disappointment of the night was that there weren’t more young performers in the audience there to see how to do it right (kudos to local duo Kim Monroe and Chris Eves and Liz Strodel of The Super Delinquents for being there to take notes).
Raitt is a full grown woman, nobody’s girl, and it suits her