Bonnie Raitt at the Beacon: Concert Review

Bonnie Raitt Performing - P 2012
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Bonnie Raitt Performing - P 2012

After four decades of touring and a brief hiatus, Bonnie Raitt comes back strong -- skunk stripe, bottleneck and all.

The veteran singer-guitarist rocks a New York City crowd with classics, covers and plenty of new songs from her first album in five years.

Bonnie Raitt played the first of a two-night stand Wednesday at the Beacon, supporting Slipstream, her first album in five years and the first on her own label, Redwing Records. It’s been awhile since Raitt has toured, but she showed no signs of wear as she brought her warm voice and masterful slide-guitar playing to the sold-out crowd. One of the evening’s many highlights came early when she joined opener Mavis Staples for a rousing gospel rock version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” before returning to rock a full house with her band.

Backed by a quartet that included Mike Finnigan on keyboards, James Hutchinson on bass, Ricky Fataar on drums and George Marinelli on guitar, Raitt smiled at the audience and was chatty all night. The nine-time Grammy winner teased with a quote from Toots & The Maytals “Reggae Got Soul” before saying, “Here’s some songs from Slipstream,” and moved into the new “Used to Rule the World.”

Clutching her signature “Brownie” Fender Strat, Raitt is yoga lithe and a radiant 63. With her red hair and skunk stripe in full effect, she moved into her slinky reggae cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.” Raitt really came alive on the song with a blistering sustain, nicely backed by Marinelli’s reverb. She kept the energy moving and called in “Something to Talk About,” which put the crowd on its feet.

Raitt switched guitars to take on an acoustic version of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” another song from Slipstream. She favored material from the new album, though the band rehearsed some 40 songs for the tour, changing up the set with each show. She summarized her feelings after having seen a poster for her tour hyping “Bonnie ‘Blender’ Raitt,” a reference to a concert favorite she’s played over the years. She looked at the audience and shook her head, “I ain’t no one-trick pony, baby!"

She stayed with the acoustic for another new song, “You Can't Fail Me Now,” written by Loudon Wainwright III. Her voice was smooth and haunting, but she really brought the crowd alive playing electric, as she did with “Love Sneakin’ Up on You.” Raitt’s bottleneck playing and finger picking -- she uses plastic finger picks on her right hand -- is clean, simple and elegant. She played through two BadCat 30-watt amps, each no bigger than a rolling suitcase, but got such powerful output that she filled the room with the cry of her slide.

She was generous with crediting songwriters, especially those from Slipstream, name-checking Al Anderson and Bonnie Bramlett (“Ain’t Gonna Let You Go”) and her former husband, actor Michael O’Keefe (“Marriage Made in Hollywood”). But it was John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” that generated the most excitement. Raitt performed her classic version of the song seated, with a slow a cappella introduction before turning to her acoustic. Finishing, she drew a standing ovation.

Raitt heated things up again with the one-two punch of “I Got News for You” and “I Feel So Damn Good.” Both songs featured lead vocals from Finnigan, who played with Etta James and Jimi Hendrix (on Electric Ladyland). Finnigan jammed on his Hammond B3 organ and Yamaha keyboard, surprising the crowd with his wailing vocals, before Raitt took over to close the set with “Down to You.”

The group returned for a three-song encore starting with “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which brought the crowd back to its feet for the rest of the night. Raitt continued with “Not the Only One” and introduced the Jerry Williams tune “Real Man” from her 1989 multiplatinum comeback album, “Nick of Time.” Raitt and her mates looked like they might have gone another hour or more, but she smiled wide and thanked the crowd and the venue, which she’s been playing for 42 years.

Staples delivered a lively opening set with her three-piece band and three backup singers. The 72-year-old was a ball of energy as she moved through her set of blues-flavored gospel. She performed songs from You Are Not Alone, her recent Grammy-winning album produced by Jeff Tweedy, including the title track and “Song for Everyone.” She told the crowd, “Our dear brother had to leave us, but he’s not far away,” before calling in “The Weight” by The Band and chanting the late Levon Helm’s name. Staples closed with a cover of “I’ll Take You There.” Latecomers to this show are going to miss out.

Set List:

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
Ain’t Gonna Let You Go
I Got News for You
I Feel So Damn Good
Down to You


I Can't Make You Love Me
Not the Only One
Real Man

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