Monday, September 24, 2012

Bonnie Raitt concert review: Los Angeles

photo by Marina Chavez
A version of my review originally ran at

Bonnie Raitt definitely knows how to set the right tone. Right from the get-go on Saturday night, she teased the crowd, “I’m gonna throw you in a pan and fry you.”
Indeed. During a very satisfying, nearly two-hour Greek Theatre show, the rock singer/guitarist displayed some sizzling bottleneck slide work – her trademark since the 1970s.
The 17-song set spotlighted half of Slipstream – Raitt’s first studio album in seven years. An alluring collection, it was self-produced (with a few tracks overseen by Grammy award-winning sonic craftsman Joe Henry), debuted in the top 10 and has been a consistent seller since spring.
While Raitt played the Los Angeles venue with Taj Mahal in ‘09 as well as several times in the past, she constantly marveled at the beautiful surroundings like it was the first time. Having grown up in nearby Burbank, this was obviously a welcome homecoming, with plenty of props and dedications thrown out to friends and music industry colleagues in the packed house.  
Onstage, the top notch band including bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, guitarist George Marinelli, drummer Ricky Fataar (all long-serving Raitt sidemen) and keyboardist Mike Finnigan ran like a well-oiled groove machine.
They kicked off the proceedings in smooth fashion with “Used to Rule the World” and a laid back, reggae-fied take on Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit “Right Down the Line.” Clad in a blue metallic top that matched the stage backdrop panels, Raitt did a tasty slide intro for “Something to Talk About” before engaging in some call and response instrument action with Marinelli.
After praising Bob Dylan’s new album and the recent Rolling Stone cover story, Raitt delved into a slow, bluesy version of his “Million Miles” (one of two selections from the folk bard’s celebrated 1997 disc Time Out of Mind tackled on Slipstream). Finnigan played with a light touch and Raitt, on acoustic guitar, gave it a sultry vocal delivery.
The flame-haired frontwoman made a humorous quip about “a woman and her wood – it’s a love story,” before strapping an iceberg blue electric axe back on for the funky “Love Sneakin’ Up on You.” Boasting full-bodied backing vocals from the guys, Raitt ripped off a searing solo.     
Still in casual conversation mode before “Come to Me,” the 62-year-old marveled about her lengthy career, how two decades seemed to pass quickly since Luck of the Draw sold seven-million copies and told of aspirations to still be performing as an octogenarian like her blues artist influences (if anyone can, it’s this candid and gutsy woman).  
As is common at Raitt gigs, many of the set’s songwriters were name checked, including actor/ex-husband Michael O’Keefe, who co-penned “Marriage Made in Hollywood” with Irishman Paul Brady. The breezy folk number about “showbiz bottom feeders” was a highlight.
Raitt dedicated John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” to her late mother Marge, a onetime OC resident who helped fuel a lifelong interest in political activism. The delicate reading, with a capella vocal intro, was simply magnificent.
Later, frequent collaborator Johnny Lee Schell was invited onstage to reprise his Nick of Time studio guitar and background vocals on a ragged, but fun version of John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love.” Raitt also welcomed up John Cleary (Dr. John) to add some keyboard/vocals to the fiery blues of “I Feel So Damn Good.” 
Seated on a stool for the encores, Raitt briefly weighed in on the presidential race (“This is an auction year, not an election year. We need to get money out of politics”) and ticket scalpers (“We made sure to keep prices low so more people could come” and they made it harder).

Then she expressed gratitude to younger musicians Adele and Bon Iver, who have performed Luck of the Draw selection “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (penned by Mike Reid/Allen Shamblin) live for “opening it up to a new audience.” At the Greek, the subtle song was heartfelt as ever. Finally, the band channeled Elvis Presley with a rambunctious, barrelhouse piano-driven “A Big Hunk O’ Love.” All told, Raitt was solid from start to finish.
Gospel/R&B music legend Mavis Staples did a spirited, enthusiastic 55-minute opening set featuring songs from "You Are Not Alone" - the acclaimed Grammy-winning 2010 album produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy - her renown family group The Staples Singers and others. Guitarist Rick Holmstrom was the linchpin of Staples' tight Americana-leaning band, whose backing vocalists included Yvonne Staples.
The 73-year-old Mavis joked about AEG Live's sale of Staples Center ("nobody consulted me") and sought to spread "joy and positive vibrations" all around. She did just that while wrapping her still gritty, robust pipes around John Fogerty's "Wrote a Song for Everyone," The Band's "The Weight," Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Raitt, who called the entire show a "soul sister extravaganza," appended guitar and backing vocals to the latter. An extended "I'll Take You There" finished things off with plenty of Mavis' soulful vamping.

Bonnie Raitt, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2012
Setlist: Used to Rule the World/Right Down the Line/Something to Talk About/Million Miles/You Can’t Fail Me Now/Love Sneakin’ Up on You/Come to Me/Marriage Made in Hollywood/Not Cause I Wanted To/Angel From Montgomery/Thing Called Love/I Got News For You/I Feel So Damn Good (I’ll Be Glad When I Get the Blues)
Encore: I Can’t Make You Love Me/Love Me Like a Man/Have a Heart/A Big Hunk o’ Love

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