Bonnie Raitt is something to talk about

“It’s about time,” says Bonnie Raitt about being back on the road again. She kicked off her Canadian tour in Montreal this past Wednesday to promote her latest release and 20th album Dig in Deep.

Her remarkable musical career as a singer-songwriter and guitarist spans 45 years. After dropping out of Harvard University in 1971, she became a professional musician, mostly playing traditional blues songs. Throughout her career, she has extended her unique style into folk, rhythm and blues, pop, country rock and Americana.

Raitt gained recognition for her bottleneck-style guitar playing at a time when few women had strong reputations as guitar players. She is listed in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and “100 Greatest Guitarists of all Time”, has won 10 Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

In Montreal’s beautifully ornate gothic-style Olympia Theatre, Raitt opened her show with the energetic tracks Unintended Consequence of Love and the INXS chart-topper Need You Tonight, both off of her new album.

She was completely unfazed when she forgot the lyrics to the chorus of Need You Tonight, apologizing and starting the song over. This didn’t rattle her at all and she performed like nothing had happened, executing the song perfectly in a spirited rendition.

Raitt is a seasoned pro, a world-class act and nonetheless totally down-to-earth. She has a powerful stage presence yet she is completely relaxed on stage, effortlessly singing and playing smooth slide guitar on her signature Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Raitt continued the show with the John Haitt song No Business from her award-winning multiplatinum 1991 album Luck of the Draw. She the slowed it down for the poignant and emotional track Undone from Dig in Deep. “This song is about how I get in trouble for the things that I say,” she explains.

He stage banter is friendly, warm, witty and nonchalant. The audience was composed of long-time Bonnie Raitt fans, who were extremely enthused and on the edge of their seats. One man approached me at the bar and said, “Aren’t you too young to be here?” – and I’m 38 years old.

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Also from Dig in Deep, Raitt shook it up with Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, which is about the frequent earthquakes in California where Raitt is from, “thanks to fracking” she adds. This is not surprising as Raitt is a long-time activist. She was a founding member of Musicians United for Safe Energy and is part of the No Nukes Group, which opposes the expansion of nuclear power. She has played benefit concerts for dozens of causes over the years.

Alone onstage with an acoustic guitar, she had another false start as she began to play a beautiful old-school blues. She abruptly stopped and apologized saying she cut her little finger and couldn’t play that song tonight. Instead, she showed off her stripped-down acoustic blues guitar chops playing my personal favourite Love me like a man from her 1972 album Give it Up.

Love me like a man had the ladies in the back of the theater whooping and hollering, with fantastic lyrics like:

“I never seen such losers
Don’t think I haven’t tried
Find a man to take me home instead of
Always for a ride”

She played this song with her bassist Hutch Hutchison, who has been in her band the longest because “they never dated,” jokes Bonnie. “You don’t get the honey where you make the money.”

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She dedicated her 1973 song I Feel the Same to the late Greg Allman. She mentioned her admiration for the rock band Little Feat several times, and praised several artists including the Canadian singer-songwriter Shirley Eikhard. She also gave thanks to the opening act, Royal Wood, who eloquently warmed up the crowd and played beautiful acoustic melodies layered with soaring vocals and harmonies.

Later that night, Raitt’s keyboard player Mike Finnigan took center stage and played a mean Hammond organ while singing B.B. King’s Don’t Answer the Door. His commanding vocals were as impressive as his intricate blues work on the keys. The audience cheered loudly while Bonnie sat on the corner of the stage, swaying and dancing in the shadows until she launched into a bluesy slide guitar solo.

Bonnie Raitt played all her classic hits, including a medley of Nick of Time/Love Sneaking Up on You. Slowing it down, dimming the lights and making the stage appear like the stars were appearing after a desert sunset, she played Angel from Montgomery. She dedicated this song to the women who have no choice in their relationships or whether they have kids, and for those who are not still allowed to drive or go to school in many countries.

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After the encore, Raitt played a haunting rendition of her hit I Can’t Make You Love Me, showing off her incredible vocals. She dedicated the song to “people suffering from a broken heart: this one’s for us”. After her powerful and emotional performance, she exclaimed, “I’m glad I don’t have to sing that one twice!’.

The final song of the night was an acoustic rendition of Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes off of Bonnie’s 1975 album Home Plate. She dedicated this one to Texas adding, “may they redeem themselves soon”.

“Your sweet and shiny eyes
Are like the stars above Laredo
Like meat and potatoes
To me”

At 67 years old, Bonnie Raitt is extremely youthful. She is truly ageless. Yet, she displays a maturity and wisdom only possible with her depth of experience and strength of character. Raitt is a world-class musician at the top of her game and she put on a fabulous show.

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