Real-Time on Raitt: Bonnie Raitt at the Ryman, 10/28/12

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Sunday was Bonnie Raitt’s third and final Ryman stop of the year. Her headlining Nashville dates book-ended an eight-month tour behind Slipstream, her latest album, and the first one she’s released since closing the book on the major label period of her career. Between the two shows, she also put in an appearance at the Americana Music Awards.

The first time around, Raitt and her top-flight, longtime band were just getting back into playing together, and still shaking some of the dust off. By the final night of their tour, they had energy to burn and navigated the set list with perfect, locked-in fluency. Follow along below for my review, in considerablly less fluid, real-time fashion.

7:41 p.m. Opener Maia Sharp explained her unorthodox, all-woman rhythm-and-lead-guitar-plus-cello power trio this way: “We’re setting out to prove you don’t need a drummer, a bassist or even a guy to rock.”

7:46 p.m. “I just realized my set is riddled with Nashville writers.” The first of many such shout-outs throughout the night.

7:55 p.m. Sharp traded guitar for keyboard. Turns out there isn’t much of a place for cello in confessional funk-pop songs.

8:00 p.m. Should’ve seen Sharp’s soprano sax solo coming on a song with those sophisticated jazz chords. She’s got a lot more in her musical bag of tricks than your average singer-songwriter.

8:08 p.m. Summoned to the stage for a guest appearance — on a song Sharp wrote and she recorded — Bonnie Raitt sounded happy about the prospect of helping to right the gender imbalance: “It’s about time there were two women lead guitar players in the same state.”

8:40 p.m. “Double-dipping”: the term Raitt used for her return to the Ryman.

8:45 p.m. It’s a songwriters’ town, no doubt, but Raitt takes the appreciation to a new level: “Without the songwriters… I wouldn’t be here tonight.”

8:50 p.m. Knew she would play her big pop hit, “Something To Talk About,” at some point, but couldn’t have predicted she’d dedicate it to guitarist George Marinelli, keyboard player Mike Finnegan and their four-decade marriages. Raitt has a knack for making romantic endurance sound believably sexy.

8:57 p.m. It’s safe to say a Bob Dylan song has never sounded quite so supple in his hands.

9:05 p.m. I bet there’s a good reason why Marinelli, drummer Ricky Fataar and bassist Hutch Hutchinson have been playing with her so long. Besides the fact that Raitt's richly varied repertoire gives them ample opportunity to stretch out, she’s an egalitarian band leader. Everybody gets their due.

9:11 p.m. Raitt & Co. just put their own hot spin on an eccentric piece of pop from the Talking Heads.

9:17 p.m. A bit of big-picture perspective: Luck of the Draw came more than 20 years ago — which was already two decades into her career — and she just said she’s hoping she’ll be doing this for another 20 years … “with the same exact hairdo, and proud of it, baby!” Longevity along with a healthy sense of humor.

9:24 p.m. She seems as comfortable singing, talking, joking and insinuating about sex as just about any woman in music. That’s what I call a good role model.

9:30 p.m. More songwriter shout-outs. This time to Gordon Kennedy. A few minutes back it was Beth Nielson Chapman. No surprise that songwriters say a Bonnie Raitt cut is a dream come true.

9:35 p.m. Time for a John Prine cameo. They go back to the early '70s, and of course “Angel From Montgomery.” Back then, she was a young woman singing a song about being old. Tonight she dedicated it to her late mother, who took her to the March on Washington and bought her a guitar. That explains a lot.

9:43 p.m. Raitt’s slide solo on “Thing Called Love” was all fluency and feeling. Not a showy thing about it.

9:49 p.m. For a band at the tail end of an eight-month tour, they sure as hell don’t sound burnt out.

10 p.m. After getting applauded back onstage for an encore, Raitt expressed her gratitude to the audience for still paying attention to her music and shelling out hard-earned cash to buy it 40 years into her career, especially now that she’s gone independent. She’s the epitome of a generous performer.

10:01 p.m. Of course, she’d kick off her encore with that ballad: “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The “don’t patronize” line rang especially true.

10:09 p.m. And for her longtime fans, some bona fide country-blues. There’s every reason to believe her claim that she knew exactly what “rock me like my back ain’t got no bone” meant when she first heard the song as a college kid.

10:25 p.m. Yeah, it was goofy and playful and all that when she went to her knees during her guitar solo. But electric guitar playing can be the most phallic display in live music. She claims that space as her own.

10:30 p.m. A satisfied audience. This is one of those super-rare Nashville shows industry people will actually pay to get into. She’s a musician’s musician who’s had also bona fide breakthrough success.

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