WHAT: Bonnie Raitt and NRBQ
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, Portland
REVIEWED: April 23
The 72-year-old singer and songwriter delivers her signature blend of sensitive folk, slow-burn blues, and catchy pop to a sold-out audience.
On Saturday night in Portland, Bonnie Raitt couldn’t stop repeating how happy she was to be back on tour performing music before an appreciative crowd. “The Road’s My Middle Name,” she enthusiastically sang at one point.
At the sold-out concert at Merrill Auditorium, the 72-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist confirmed why she is the winner of multiple awards and an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her signature blend of sensitive folk, slow-burn blues, and catchy pop (along with a few other things) was delivered through her distinctively soulful voice to a crowd that seemed to be feeling it as much as she was, even though they were perhaps not yet familiar with the songs from her new album – “Just Like That…” – which was released only a day before the show.
Bandmates and collaborators James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass), Ricky Fataar (drums), Duke Levine (guitar and mandolin), George Marinelli (guitar), and Glenn Patscha (keyboards) provided strong support to the guitar-slinging redhead at center stage.
The performance began with “Made Up Mind,” the lead tune on the new disc. Its chronicling of a relationship ending with a sad determination fits perfectly with the longstanding emotional realism in Raitt’s work. It was highlighted by her expressive slide guitar playing, which is almost like an extension of her voice by this point.
In the same lyrical vein but delivered as a feisty blues, “Blame It On Me” turns the tables on the fault-finding in a breakup. The tune sets up the final result: a broken heart which she is more than willing to “blame … on you.”
The singer’s roots in folk music were well represented by a tribute to her friend, the recently passed John Prine, whom she referenced on several occasions during the almost two-hour show. Seated with an acoustic guitar in hand, she intoned Prine’s classic “Angel from Montgomery” and was visibly moved by the close.
The title piece from the new album, a Raitt original, also was moving in its storytelling of a mother reunited, in a sense, with her departed son. Another original, “Waitin’ for You to Blow,” featuring a bubbly organ solo from Patscha, made a seductively funky case for the struggles of recovery. Her take on the power ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was a touching highlight, Raitt’s voice soaring to the rafters of the acoustically friendly hall.
“Back Around,” a blues rooted in Malian music, had Raitt adding the sharp chill of slide steel guitar to the mix. The reggae pulse of “Have a Heart” was infectious while Raitt’s take on the classic “Something to Talk About” emerged from an updated group intro.
“Livin’ For the Ones,” a Raitt/Marinelli tribute to lost friends, rocked out hard with weaving guitar lines way up in the mix. At the other extreme, “Nick of Time,” with Raitt at the keyboard, was a breezy pop treat that the singer said made her think that summer is on the way.
References to both the war in Ukraine and some homeless people she met earlier in the day in Portland showed that Raitt has not lost her passion for causes far and near. All the while, she continues to make the case for the many powers of good music.
Opening the evening with a brief set was a sextet that originated in the same mid-20th century era that produced Raitt.
NRBQ has defied labels over the years. Perhaps because of that, the group has endured as a fun treat to hear and see. Who else can open with a Duke Ellington riff, follow with some good-time rockabilly and country twang, then throw in a classic Afro-Cuban song before closing with a near-perfect rock rave-up?
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.