“Ah spring! Are your juices flowing yet?” asked Bonnie Raitt at the start of her sensational show Tuesday night at the Orpheum. “No? Well, get ready. Here we go.”
Raitt smiled, raised her Stratocaster “Brownie” and nudged her longtime band into a bluesy, rockin’ cover of INXS’ 1987 hit “Need You Tonight” that oozed lust and longing. “I need you tonight/Cuz I’m not sleeping. There’s something about you/That makes me sweat,” Raitt sang while the band rocked and the capacity crowd roared. You bet your butt the juices were flowing.
Raitt and company were just getting started. For some two hours, in this intimate venue that has hosted some of the best Boston shows in her 46-year career, Raitt delivered one wow moment after another. And, at age 66, she is the undisputed sexiest woman in popular music. How can you not love a woman whose emerald guitar slide matches her shirt!
The former Cambridge resident — she gave a shout-out to her old ‘hood, Oxford Street near Porter Square — is touring behind her excellent new album “Dig in Deep.” Four of the first five songs she performed Tuesday night were from that album, with the slow-burning “Undone” and an incendiary, nasty-guitar-fueled Los Lobos’ cover “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” standing out.
There is more rasp in Raitt’s vocals these days. Her voice sounds broken and ravaged when she speaks, but when she sings her songs of bad romances and loneliness it’s as if it’s 1971 and she’s on stage at Jack’s or Jonathan Swift’s.
And there’s no better slide guitar player on the planet, and there hasn’t been since bottleneck master Lowell George passed away. She’s not showoffy, she stands toe to toe with guitarist George Marinelli and the two whip up a hurricane of beautiful, bluesy notes.
This band is something else. Somerville’s Hutch Hutchinson (bass), Ricky Fataar (drums) and Marinelli have helped make her shows dazzle for years. Relative newcomer Mike Finnigan is the not so-secret weapon; his Hammond B-3 and piano playing adds a whole lot of soul and pizazz.
Raitt got a tad emotional as she recalled her early days in the Hub as a Radcliffe student and burgeoning musician, getting to meet and perform with blues giants. She was psyched that legendary guitarist Paul Geremia was in the audience. She praised her first piano teacher, the late Boston legend David Maxwell. And after a false start on the Gerry Rafferty song “Right Down the Line,” she semi-joked “I don’t listen to men. I run my own show. … And I just love singing about love affairs that don’t work out.” This drew hoots of appreciation from the women in attendance.
A mid-set three-song throwback found Raitt rocking a stool, playing an acoustic guitar that nearly dwarfed her petite frame. It was a wondrous surprise, not performed at any other show on this tour. “Love You Like a Man,” by Chris Smither, another singer-songwriter from Cambridge’s golden folk-blues days, was a delight. “I haven’t done this in years,” said Raitt, reminiscing about recording the song backed by Little Feat. The sultry “I Feel the Same” followed and featured the night’s best vocal. Sippie Wallace’s blues gem “Mighty Tight Woman,” from Raitt’s 1971 debut album, completed the trifecta. Dixieland trumpet and clarinet by Lech Wierzynski and Johnny Bones of the opening act, the California Honeydrops, skyrocketed the song into the stratosphere.
Crowd favorites “Something to Talk About” and a tender “I Can’t Make You Love Me” earned extended standing ovations, as did a marvelous reading of John Prine’s classic “Angel from Montgomery,” which has become a Raitt standard. And Finnigan’s growling, bluesy vocal on B.B. King’s “Don’t Answer the Door” was terrific.
Raitt is back in the Hub for an Aug. 20 gig at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, bringing the incomparable Richard Thompson along as her opening act. Buy tickets. Now!
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