LIVE: Bonnie Raitt @ the Palace Theatre, 3/12/16
Review by Greg Haymes
Four and a half decades into her recording career, she’s still got the Raitt stuff.
Sporting a bright kelly green blouse and tight black jeans at the Palace Theatre on St. Patrick’s Parade Day, the red-headed blueswoman looked and sounded uncannily like she did back in the early ’70s, when Bonnie Raitt was just launching her career.
And she did indeed reach all the way back to her 1971 eponymous debut album for one of the evening’s highlights – an impromptu duet of Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road” with Chatham’s own acoustic blues queen Rory Block. Sitting centerstage for the encore, the two traded verses and hot licks on acoustic guitars, as bassist Hutch Hutchinson provided the lone musical anchor.
The sublime song was a reminder of Raitt’s acoustic blues roots, but those roots ran deep throughout her two-hour performance, from the opening romp through INX’s “Need You Tonight” (re-invented as a slinky slide guitar work-out) to the righteous rumble of bluesman J.B. Lenoir’s “Round & Round.”
The Palace concert was only the second show of her tour in support of her new album, Dig in Deep, but there were no early-tour jitters. At age 66, she commanded the stage both vocally and with the ease and grace of her exquisite slide guitar playing. She didn’t try too hard because she didnn’t have to, but she never slipped into auto-pilot, either. Her guitar playing isn’t easy; she just makes it look that way.
She’s had a quintessentially roller coaster career, and while she knows that she’s not likely to top the Grammy Award-winning Album of the Year success of 1990’s “Nick of Time,” she’s got nothing left to prove. But the sold-out crowd – mostly graying baby-boomers, judging by the cheers when she mentioned her shows at the long-defunct Music Inn in Lenox – was with her all the way.
At February’s Grammy Awards show, the 10-time Grammy Award-winning stole the show with her tribute to the late B.B. King, but at the Palace, she turned the King hommage over to keyboardist Mike Finnigan, who churned his way through a blistering “Don’t Answer the Door.”
She’s not a prolific songwriter – never has been – but on the new album, she earned songwriting credits on nearly half of the tunes, and in concert, she made the most of such new originals as the churning “The Comin’ ‘Round Is Going Through'” (“an equal opportunity vent” about frustration on both sides of the political aisle) and “What You’re Doin’ to Me” (with Raitt shifting over to the piano).
We didn’t get to hear her serve up her signature renditions of Sippy Wallace’s “Women Be Wise,” John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” or Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like a Man,” but Smither was nicely represented with “I Feel the Same,” and her other cover selections were right on the money, from the chug through Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” (fueled by drummer Ricky Fataar) to the reggae-tinged remake of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” (featuring an in-the-pocket solo from guitarist George Marinelli), from the requisite and still heartbreaking interpretation of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” to the freewheeling spin through Del Shannon’s “Runaway” (with Raitt wryly calling it out as “my only hit”).
Most potently, she sat guitarless centerstage for her first encore – “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a heartbreaking ballad of unrequited love. It still seems nearly impossible that this song uncommon tenderness was written by two-time All-Pro NFL defensive linebacker, Mike Reid.
The California Honeydrops opened the show with an impressive 50-minute set that started off on “simmer” (a ballad treatment of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s gospel nugget “Up Above My Head”) and never really cranked it up to full boil. Led by soulful vocalist-guitarist-trumpeter Lech Wierzynski, the Oakland quintet made the most of their 50-minute slot, shifting gears from down ‘n’ dirty blues of the closing “Cry Baby Blues” to the strutting New Orleans parade beat of “Junker’s Blues”; from the R&B bounce of Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” to the jug band breakdown of “Pumpkin Pie,” showcasing the band’s roots as subway buskers and drummer Ben Malament’s considerable skills on the washboard.
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Raitt strapped on an acoustic guitar for a hushed, lovely version of John Prine’s ‘Angel from Montgomery,’ which drew a standing ovation, and pockets of fans stood again and danced for her grooving, soulful take on Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway.’ She and Finnigan jammed on B.B. King’s blues lament ‘Don’t Answer the Door,’ and Raitt took a rare turn at the keyboard herself for her new, autobiographical tune ‘What You’re Doin’ to Me.’ In one of the night’s great moments, Raitt’s longtime friend Rory Block, the Hudson Valley-based blues guitarist and singer, made a guest appearance onstage to revisit an unrehearsed yet forceful cover of blues legend Tommy Johnson’s ‘Big Road Blues,’ a number that the pair last played together on stage 15 years ago.”
BONNIE RAITT SET LIST
Need You Tonight (INXS)
Used to Rule the World
Gypsy in Me
Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes (Los Lobos)
Down the Line (Gerry Rafferty)
Round & Round (J.B. Lenoir)
I Feel the Same (Chris Smither)
Something to Talk About
The Comin’ Round Is Going Through
Angel From Montgomery (John Prine)
Runaway (Del Shannon)
Don’t Answer the Door (B.B. King) (Mike Finnigan on lead vocals)
Good Man, Good Woman (duet with Finnigan)
What You’re Doin’ to Me
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Big Road (Tommy Johnson) (duet with special guest Rory Block)
Longing in Our Hearts
Your Sweet & Shiny Eyes
THE CALIFORNIA HONEYDROPS SET LIST
Up Above My Head (Sister Rosette Tharpe)
Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You (Wilson Pickett)
All Them Things
Cry Baby Blues