BY HAYS DAVIS
If Bonnie Raitt’s late-’80s success seemed particularly sweet nearly 20 years into her career, Thursday night’s show at the Carpenter Theatre was evidence that her late-blooming popularity has never waned. Along with the Richmond performance being the first night of her tour, it was also one of a number of sold-out dates.
In her set’s opening minutes, who would have imagined INXS’s “Need You Tonight” as a platform for a slide-guitar showcase? In Raitt’s hands, it sounded perfectly natural.
“It’s so good to be out of rehearsal and playing for some live animals! Yes!” Raitt exclaimed, obviously stoked about getting the tour underway. With a sock monkey watching from its seat atop an amp, she lit into songs from her new album, “Dig in Deep,” like they were old favorites, and into old favorites including “Something to Talk About” like they were new discoveries.
A cry from the audience of “Where’s Freebo?” led to a mention by Raitt of how she and her former longtime bassist had played the Mosque in Richmond in earlier days before Freebo moved on to a solo career.
A gifted interpreter of others’ songs, Raitt spotlighted Texas songwriter Bonnie Bishop on an arresting “Undone.” Even songs that she’s played countless times still have an obvious effect on her; after John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” she had to pause before moving on: “I don’t know if I’m ready.”
After Raitt led into “Time of Our Lives” by noting how they never play it live, a mid-song vocal slip-up provided an endearingly personal moment. Regardless of the gaffe, the song was a showcase for Raitt the singer, who sounds as strong as ever 45 years after the release of her debut album.
Raitt’s band also sounded at its peak. During the reggae pulse of “Right Down the Line,” guitarist George Marinelli and Raitt had a hot exchange of solos, and when “What You’re Doing to Me” drew a standing ovation, she was moved to declare, “I feel better now, and I wasn’t even feeling bad!” Keyboard player Mike Finnigan also earned a roar of approval for his lead vocals on B.B. King’s “Don’t Answer the Door.”
Settling onto a stool with an acoustic guitar, Raitt said, “I’m trying to remember how to do this,” nodding toward tour-starting rustiness. “You finish the album, do the artwork, do the promos, build the set.” Looking down at her instrument she added, “It’s like a really nice bicycle.”
“That was so nice, the Honeydrops’ set. I had to change my clothes!” Raitt gushed about her opening act, the California Honeydrops. The quartet, which got its start in 2007 playing in the subway stations of Oakland, provided a loose, swinging warm-up. Singer/bandleader Lech Wierzynski was an energetic, joyful presence, and their sax, keyboard, and trumpet traded spotlight moments like generous buddies. After only ten minutes of their mix of jazzy R&B the crowd seemed to forget that this was the evening’s opener.
“This is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to this band,” said Wierzynski of their spot on Raitt’s tour. “And this is just the first night.”
Source: © Copyright Richmond Times-Dispatch