Success so often spoils a great musical performer, replacing angst with comfort and complacency. This is not the case for Bonnie Raitt. Her sold-out Hollywood Bowl performance proved it. In fact, Raitt defies a second myth — the one about age doing much of the same. Clearly, she still relates to her newest album’s title, “Longing in Their Hearts.”
Raitt, 44, has beat the odds in an industry known for its unkindness to women over 35, and its lack of forgiveness to the once-failed artist. Cool and dignified while still communicating her deeply felt emotions, Raitt so obviously belonged on that stage.
Although off to a slow start — mostly due to the band’s coldness — by the third song, Raitt warmed up, and her band followed. But it was in her sixth song , “Circle Dance,” a song she dedicated to her father, Broadway veteran John Raitt, that Raitt’s full colors and textures came out from partial hiding. The song featured Bruce Hornsby and the Range saxophonist Bobby Read, and Raitt on keyboards. She crooned “After a while I learned that love must be a thing that leaves,” in a moment that held all completely entranced.
Raitt opened her set with the John Hiatt-written song “No Business,” and followed up with hit “Something to Talk About” from the 5 million-selling album “Luck of the Draw.” Surprisingly, though, Raitt left out a few favorites, such as “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw,” and she gave herself very little time to strut her special slide guitar playing. But her 27-song set didn’t leave room to be all-inclusive.
Still, she managed to pick a good mix of blues and pop hits for the recent fans, more biting blues for the longer-term fans. Natural and spontaneous, Raitt moved from the sultry ballad singer to the funky blues guitar player with ease.
Raitt even sang two old Broadway tunes for her final encore –“Oklahoma” and “Hey You”– duet style with her father, which made for a perfect ending.
Other guest appearances enlivened the show even more. She brought up Hornsby for “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Was (Not Was)’s Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens for “Love Sneakin’ Up on You” and Jackson Browne for “Angel of Montgomery.”
Raitt’s band, despite its drowsy start, supported her soulful playing. Of particular note, bassist Hutch Hutchinson and percussionist/back-up vocalist Debra Dobkin, echoed Raitt’s combination of technical prowess and passion.