Bonnie Raitt turned Kingsbury Hall into her living room Saturday night. She didn't do it alone. Longtime musician friend Johnny Lee Schell and a capacity crowd of willing house guests helped set the tone for an unusually intimate performance.
Even before the music started, that amiable atmosphere was being established. Folks were visiting, strolling about; there was a great deal of laughter. Virtually all were smiling broadly, happily anticipating an evening with Bonnie Raitt.It was apparent that much, if not most, of the crowd had been in Raitt's living room before. This was a family reunion. It was also a benefit for KRCL radio.
Raitt took to the stage like a woman coming home after a hard day's work. That degree of comfort is no surprise given the fact that she's been making her home on the road for years. And from the response of the audience to her opening song, "Any Day Woman," this was a homecoming of sorts for all.
Most of Raitt's semi-acoustic performance included songs from her nine previous albums. The 90-minute set with Schell included crowd-pleasers like "Love Me Like A Man," "Louise," "My Opening Farewell," "Woman Be Wise," "Kokomo Blues," "Midway" and "Angel From Montgomery."
During her visits with the audience between songs, Raitt took great care to acknowledge the songwriters - praising in particular, John Prine, Jackson Browne and blues artist Sippie Wallace.
Besides the old familiar tunes, Raitt introduced three songs from her upcoming album, "Nick of Time." The record, to be released this spring, represents a return to "roots" music and a switch to a new label. She told the audience, "I switched from Warner Bros. after 17 years . . . there wasn't enough room for me and Madonna." Raitt said Capitol records was more open to her artistic sensibilities. "They let me do it nice and simple."
Of the trio of new tunes, the hottest was one Raitt herself wrote called "The Road Is My Middle Name." "The Road," which she recorded with the "Fabulous Thunderbirds" for the album, is a tour de force for Raitt's celebrated delta blues guitar virtuosity and for her equally celebrated vocal style, which is capable of great ranges of character and volume without the least loss of authority - a voice with blood in it.
While the guitar work of both Raitt and Schell shines whatever their specific duties on a particular song, it was during "The Road" that the two - with Raitt on her Martin and Schell on his Gibson Les Paul - cut loose, tapped most deeply into their roots in Mississippi delta music and created a wall of sound that transcended mere performance, and approached that union of flesh and steel strings, which is perhaps what such musicians live for. It is, at least, what audiences long for, and what this audience witnessed.
In addition to Raitt's engagement with both the technical and emotional aspects of her performance, she seemed to show a special love for the ballads. Her renditions of "Louise," "Angel from Montgomery" and "My Opening Farewell" were particularly beautiful and appeared to move the performer as much as the audience. Schell's lovely harmonies were added gifts.
Raitt, whose wit is as quick as her fingers, was so engaging between songs the audience likely would have stayed after the concert to hear her talk about ways, as she put it, to "keep compassion on the planet Earth." Even so, she treated her Utah friends to a pair of encores. After the first - Sippie Wallace's "Woman Be Wise" from her first album - she said, "I keep having to remind myself, this is not my living room." When it was really time to leave, she said, "I'll be back with the band next time. It's been nice chatting with you."
Like Raitt, opening act performerEd Pratt praised the writers of the songs he performed. Pratt, along with Steve Flygare on lead and Linke Hebrew on stand-up bass, warmed the crowd with a genuinely pleasant set, similarly enhanced by Pratt's on-stage wit. Pratt, whose voice is made for high, clear ballads, also supplied the concert's remarkable sound system through his Salt Lake company, Pratt Sound.