Bonnie Rait @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Tuesday 11th June 2013

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The focus for tonight’s performance is vehemently aimed in the direction of Bonnie Raitt’s latest album ‘Slipstream’. A favourable portion of the setlist will lean heavily upon the Grammy nominated release. A rousing endorsement of the new material, and a testament to the calibre of Bonnie Raitt as a recording artiste.

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The first two songs mimic the track listing of ‘Slipstream’, the band opening with the bluesy shuffle ‘Used to Rule the World’; followed by the late Gerry Rafferty penned ‘Right Down the Line’; the former affording legendary organist Mike Finnigan the chance to wow the hall with his array of colourful flourishes.

The quality of Raitt’s touring band is further demonstrated by long-time associate, George Marinelli’s superb, and generally understated sonic snippets. Indeed, all of Raitt’s band, in addition to their touring obligations to the songstress, have established themselves as much sought after talents. Just a few of their other employers have included the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joe Cocker, Buddy Guy, and in Mike Finnigan’s case, Jimi Hendrix (Finnigan featured on the ‘Electric Ladyland’ album).

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It is evident that performing live is a vital part of the process for Raitt. Her enthusiasm is palpable as a seemingly limitless source of anecdotes and jokes flow from the radiant, flame haired singer, much to the delight the Symphony Hall audience, which is almost a sell out. No mean feat when you consider the competition rocking out a short distance away over the city canals. Neil Young and his Crazy Horse compadres are in town too, making the close to sell-out symphony hall an even more impressive achievement. It would be by no means a stretch of the imagination to picture many of the audience wrestling with themselves over which legendary performer to go see. Raitt is attuned to this very possibility and thanks the crowd for their support with the sincere, “Thanks for picking us.”

The faithful are rewarded for their loyalty with a wonderful version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Million Miles’, whilst ‘Marriage Made In Hollywood’ really lets the band find a groove. ‘Down To You’ is dedicated to “Mick and Keith”, Raitt nonchalantly slipping in that she recently had the pleasure of performing ‘Let It Bleed’ with the “boys”, adding that “she never feels old when looking at those two”.

Raitt’s continues to wow, particularly on the Joe Henry / Loudon Wainwright III composition ‘You Can’t Fail Me Now’, possibly the best song on ‘Slipstream’ and a soon to be fans favourite the longer it resonates. ‘Angel of Montgomery’ is dedicated to Raitt’s mother and to “all the mothers out there”. For this particularly moving performance, the lights fade away, except for the solitary spotlight firmly fixed upon Raitt. In unison with that single shard of light, shimmering down from the uppermost reaches of the hall, all eyes and ears are drawn to the emotional Raitt. The opening verse is performed a cappella and really adds gravitas to proceedings. This performance is easily the best of the night, and is reflected by the audience applause, which is louder and more prolonged than at the conclusion of previous numbers.

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Before the night is done, we get to hear the “pièce de résistance” ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, which forms part of the encore to which Raitt adds a slightly offbeat arrangement. Nevertheless, the performance is captivating, as is the whole evening.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to Bonnie Raitt and her band, until she rolls into town next. Judging by her enthusiasm and productivity, we will not have to wait too long at all.

Photographs by John Mason

Review by Chris Curtis


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