Bonnie Raitt offered the perfect antidote to the bigger-than-life summer roadshows currently criss-crossing the country with an exemplary performance Friday which was at turns rollicking and sedate, but always classy.
The two-hour, flawless perf — the first of a three-night SRO stand — was a must-see for industry comers interested in learning how to please an audience by merging personality and well-honed skills, rather than resorting to smoke pots and light storms.
The set’s kickoff of “The Fundamental Things” and the quick segue to her hit “Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About,” tunes off Raitt’s latest Capitol Records disc “Fundamental” and her multiple Grammy-winning effort “Nick Of Time,” respectively, was a quick aural history of where the enigmatic singer is headed and where she has been.
Raitt drew mostly from the new album, which evokes her groundbreaking ’70s-era works with its stripped-down feel, and delivered a nugget-filled showcase of her considerable slide guitar prowess and vocal acumen that was buffered by her fiery confidence.
The enigmatic singer effortlessly worked her brown signature Fender Stratocaster — she has linked with the guitar company and the Boys and Girls Clubs to aid at-risk youth with equipment and lesson commitments — to augment such new disc tracks as John Hiatt’s 1983 tune “Lover’s Will” and “Spit of Love,” the latter a chugging, love song, penned by Raitt, but without the usual sappy lyrics.
Raitt’s efforts were supplemented by a top-drawer backing band that including bassist Hutch Hutchinson and ageless axeman Rick Vito, the latter one of the industry’s stellar and more charismatic guitar players.
Vito — who played in Raitt’s band in the ’70s and was a member of the pre-reunion Fleetwood Mac — also demonstrated his vocal mettle by providing the harmonies and the occasional duet to Raitt’s warblings.
A solo guest shot by Jackson Browne and show opener Keb Mo’ joining Raitt in mid-set were by themselves worth the price of admission and served to further the vibe that the evening’s performances were coming from standard-setters rather than trend followers.
Raitt momentarily sidelined her blues-influenced swagger and uber cool — yet further solidified her place as a music industry force — by revealing a vulnerable side with an incredible, keyboard-vocal version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” replete with swirling piano riffs and full-bodied high notes.
Though the packed house and roaring applause suggested Raitt was already preaching to the choir, she undoubtedly converted any hold-outs by show’s end.