Bonnie Raitt treats Hill Auditorium crowd to powerful, emotional show
Bonnie Raitt turned the page on a four-decade-long mutual love affair with Ann Arbor on Friday, delivering a riveting performance that reduced a packed Hill Auditorium to an intimate coffee shop and served as a reminder of what a delightful performer Raitt has always been.
Alternating between material from her latest record, “Slipstream,” classic blues numbers, and hits from her early 1990s revival, Raitt offered something for fans of all the many phases of her career.
On Friday, during her special pre-season concert presented by the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Raitt's adoring audiences seemed to eat it it all up. And why not? Many of them have been there from the start.
Some of Raitt's earliest success came at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Fesyivals during the early 1970s, and it was clear early on Friday that some of that early magic remains whenever she returns.
“This has been one of my favorite places since 1971,” Raitt said by way of introduction. “And it’s so great to still be coming back here.
“Thanks for your enthusiasm. Thanks for your loyalty.”
Backed by her lean, mean touring band, many of whom have been with her for a quarter-century or more, Raitt slipped easily from tender ballads to scorching raveups. If the music never strayed far from the blues-rock that is Raitt’s stock in trade, the band—particularly keyboardist Mike Finnigan—kept things interesting thanks to oddball runs and off-kilter phrasing.
And although perhaps best known as a fiery slide guitarist, Raitt’s vocals were the real attraction on Friday. Rough and sultry, her voice infused signature tunes like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” with an emotional edge that was impossible to resist.
These blues even caught up with Raitt at one point, bringing her to tears as she admitted that the music and the songs, after all these years, still move her.
But mostly, she was sassy and sexy. And, at 62, funny, joking about experiencing hot flashes during shows and knowingly warning her road crew that they’d be crossing the border into Canada after Friday’s show.
“Enough said,” she deadpanned.”
Even though she and the band shone on rockers like “Something to Talk About” and “Love Sneaking Up On You,” Friday’s best moments came when Raitt played ballads on acoustic guitar.
A pair of lovely tunes written by former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson were unfortunately marred by an annoying buzz in the sound system, while an exploration of Bob Dylan’s excellent “Million Miles” yielded swampy, muddy rewards.
As she closed the main set of her nearly two-hour show, Raitt brought it all back home with an off-the-cuff revisiting of “Women Be Wise,” a Sippie Wallace tune Raitt covered on her very first record and which she performed with Wallace during that Blues and Jazz Festival way back in '71.
It was a touching tribute to a mentor, but also a reminder that Raitt, who could be forgiven for relying on the tried-and-true hits that got her here, would rather keep her music and her performances vital and interesting and alive.
And even though the audience reaped the rewards, no one seemed to be having more fun than Raitt herself.