42 years into a storied musical career, Bonnie Raitt continues to exhibit the hot-blooded enthusiasm of performers half her age. Bringing a lean, five-piece ensemble to the Greek on Saturday night, Raitt seemed comfortable and confident playing to a hometown audience filled with friends and music industry associates. The concert seemed to be an evocative trip down memory lane for the 62 year-old singer/guitarist, who consistently gave gracious dedications to friends, colleagues and ex-lovers.Emerging to the feverish roar of the sold-out theater, Raitt — dressed in a turquoise and tiger-striped button up — thanked the audience and set about establishing the loose, improvisational interplay that her band would rely upon throughout the evening. Her reggae-tinged version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down The Line” was deftly sung, and the band continuously built tension but never sounded rushed or hurried in its delivery. “Something To Talk About” followed, with its easy backbeat groove and Raitt’s unabashedly flirtatious lyrical jabs galvanizing the audience in a lighthearted sing-a-long. Though a signature song, “Something To Talk About” doesn’t hold up nearly as well as some of her older material, sounding almost too trite and silly when paired with some of the more emotionally searing, blues-based numbers. Throughout the concert, Raitt’s hard-charging bottleneck soloing was complimented gracefully by guitarist George Marinelli’s nimbly-picked runs and solos. Highly quotable and charming, Raitt usually prefaced each song with a story, a dedication, a politically-charged mandate or a whimsical, folksy observation. Prior to a deep, bluesy interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” Raitt commented that Dylan was still a “ornery old cuss,” which elicited an uproarious response from the audience. She would later add that she “plays songs like bacon smells,” which seemed oddly accurate, if enigmatically oblique. The main body of the set lasted a little over one hour, in which Raitt brought out guest musicians Johnny Lee Schell and Jon Cleary to add electric guitar and piano, respectively. Returning for a five-song encore, Raitt delivered her finest and most popular tune, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” with an impassioned, heart-wrenching vocal and an elegantly performed electric piano solo by Mike Finnigan. The song still stands as one of the saddest, most painfully direct odes to unrequited romance ever composed, and though it has become a multi-generational standard, Raitt’s interpretation is still definitive. She closed with a rapid-fire rendition of Elvis’ “Burning Love.” Over the past few months, Raitts’ new album “Slipstream” has seen her enjoy yet another unlikely, late-period commercial resurgence. Her seemingly endless wellspring of energy and charisma has now been tempered by numerous layers of experience, adding even more weight to her unique blend of humility and bravado. And though her music is easily categorizable and direct, she is not — and never has been.
Greek Theatre; 5,900 capacity; $75.50 top
Presented by Nederlander. Performers: Bonnie Raitt, James Hutchinson, Ricky Fataar, George Marinelli, Mike Finnigan. Also appearing: Mavis Staples. Reviewed September 22, 2012