There’s really no one other than Bonnie Raitt who has achieved this kind of commercial success as a woman steeped in blues — mostly light, often pop-ish — but always one foot firmly in or near the Mississippi Delta.
At the sold-out Palace Theater of Saturday night, Raitt dipped into her old hits and some beautiful new covers from her latest record. Whatever she played felt new and wonderfully old at the same time.
She loaded the show with tunes from her latest album, starting with “Used to Rule the World,” a funky nod to the confidence, or ignorance, of youth. Next came the sure thing, “Something to Talk About,” to raise the energy a bit. This was good, as the band pushed it a bit and pockets of the audience got to their feet, but it didn’t light up the room in any way.
She followed with another tune from the new one, “Million Miles,” an eerie Bob Dylan tune from “Time Out of Mind.” She is best on these slow, melancholy ballads. While this hit the mark — bringing the band and the room together — it wasn’t until the awesome “Angel from Montgomery” much later in the show that Raitt showed her emotional reach. This tune, made classic as a collaboration with John Prine, is the quintessential Raitt song and should place somewhere high on everyone’s top songs list. This was the one that finally brought everyone out of their seats.
At 62, Raitt still comes across raw and polished at the same time. She also comes across tough and in total control of the music and the room. Flashing her signature tight jeans and red hair, she sounds not a whole lot different than she did 30 years ago.
“Who would’ve thought 62 would look like this?” she asked a roaring crowd.
Most female singer-songwriters attract mostly women to their shows, but Raitt’s crowd is at least split even, maybe even leaning toward the male side. Shouts between songs like “You’re smoking hot” came from men and women.
“You Can’t Fail Me Now” is her newest effort at a ballad. It’s a sweet, slow tune that showcased the richness of her voice. But her highest achievement in that category is “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which came during the first encore and was the strongest moment of the night.
Backed by all men — why do female band leaders not hire at least one other woman? — the band was solid and certainly dependable but didn’t rip it up at any point. Raitt played a good deal of slide guitar through the night. She tossed out a few slick bars on almost every song, but she never dug in, never went a full chorus.
She played a few slow heartbreakers, starting with “Not Cause I Wanted To” and including “Angel from Montgomery” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” before sliding into fast-tempo tunes to close the show. Opening act Marc Cohn joined her on “Crazy Love” to close the show.
Cohn, best known for “Walking in Memphis,” played the song on piano with his partner on guitar. Cohn dedicated the song to Muriel, as he usually does, telling us the great tale of his visit to Memphis that inspired the hit.
His songs are sparse, sad, and soulful. His best song was “Listening to Levon,” dedicated to the late Levon Helm. Cohn wrote the song in 2007 about tuning out his girlfriend Mary when Helm came on the car radio. It featured great imagery, which runs strong through many of his tunes.