Singer wraps up tour at Saenger Theatre
Bonnie Raitt, that beautiful, talented lady who can get down with blues and funk one moment and then break hearts the next with a soul-touching ballad, ended 18 months of roadwork Saturday at the Saenger Theatre.
Roots music artist and fan that she is, Raitt loved wrapping up her tour in New Orleans. The night was made more special by guest appearances from local talent, songwriter, producer and pianist Allen Toussaint, and singer-keyboardist Jon Cleary, a former member of Raitt’s band.
Looking Christmassy in a green shirt decorated by silver glitter, the red-maned singer and slide guitarist found additional joy in playing at the resurrected Saenger. The restored Canal Street landmark reopened in September.
“This is a gorgeous reconstruction,” she said as she took in the site from the stage. Later, speaking of New Orleans, she noted the city’s cuisine and many musical offerings in town Saturday that she wanted to attend but couldn’t because she was busy playing her own gig. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like living here,” she gushed. “A pit of joy.”
Raitt and her veteran band members opened with an uplifting performance of Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Hear Me Lord.” She dedicated it to the late Nelson Mandela.
The rather freewheeling concert featured classics from the singer’s 44-year career and songs from the 2012 album that marked her return to the studio after a seven-year break, “Slipstream.” With the album, which sold an impressive 250,000 copies, and touring that followed, the 64-year-old artist showed she isn’t half-stepping.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I go home,” she said Saturday. “It’ll be so boring!”
Funk, a genre Raitt has a natural feeling for, propelled several of the night’s songs, including “Slipstream” track “Used to Rule the World.” George Marinelli, a member of Raitt’s band for 20 years, strummed classically funky rhythm guitar for it and keyboardist Mike Finnigan, whose credits include Jimi Hendrix, Etta James and Buddy Guy, executed his soulful expertise at the organ.
Raitt and another “Slipstream” song, “Right Down the Line,” are a great fit. She and the band gave the Gerry Raffery composition just the right movement and longing. Raitt also gave it one of her warm, elegantly languid slide guitar leads.
Bob Dylan’s songs have been done by thousands of artists, but Raitt’s “Slipstream” recordings and Saenger Theatre performances of his music place her among his best interpreters. First came the low and moody “Million Miles” and, later, “Standing in the Doorway.” “You left me standin’ in the doorway cryin’, blues wrapped around my head,” she grieved softly. Resigned heartache returned with “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Raitt sat on a low stool, her guitars put aside, for the intimate, raptly received performance.
“I’m so glad I’m not going through that right now,” she said afterward. “Love’s a bitch, ain’t it?”
Cleary returned to the Raitt fold for two of his funky compositions. Toussaint followed, dressed in a cherry red jacket and sparkling tie and medallion. Raitt introduced him as an early Christmas present. The well-intentioned star of the show slipped when she credited Toussaint, who wrote and produced so many New Orleans classics, for Barbara George’s 1961 hit, “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More).” That’s one he didn’t write.
Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, who’d made his New Orleans debut earlier Saturday as Raitt’s opening act, joined her on stage for “Not the Only One,” his composition from her 1991 album, “Luck of the Draw.” They also played a meditative take on a great Richard Thompson song, “Dimming of the Day.”
Always a supporter of classic artists, Raitt saved a song she had the pleasure of performing with her Charles Brown and Ruth Brown, “Never Make Your Move too Soon,” for her romping Saenger finale.
Looking no ways tired at the end of the show, she expressed thanks for the great run she’s just had. She looked more than ready for another round.