Bonnie Raitt drew a full house to the Palace Theatre on Good Friday, April 15. The blues-rock legend was competing with Passover and Easter weekend but still managed to fill the venue to the brim with fans. With opening band NRBQ, music lovers were promised – and delivered – a satisfying spiritual experience that lifted souls.
NRBQ took the stage promptly at 8 pm with fans still dancing en route to their ticketed seats. If you haven’t heard of NRBQ, my guess is you’ve heard them, just not their name. Many of their songs were both familiar and fun. I was dancing a jive in my keds as I watched the band members playfully move through a fast-paced and harmonized set. The band transported me back to my mother’s era of nights out. Musically sound, the band is worth a second listen if this was your first. They will be at The Hanger in Troy in June.
After a brief set change, Raitt unceremoniously walked onto the stage washed in blue light. She waved and jumped right into her first set. This was Raitt’s first week of performances since the onset of the COVID pandemic’s closing of all things entertainment, and Albany was only the third stop on her tour. So I wasn’t sure what to expect.
At age 72, Raitt’s voice continues to be a national treasure: clear as a bell, perfectly on pitch, and soulfully expressive. Unlike other musicians whose first concert out after the long pandemic showed some nerves and difficulties, Raitt didn’t miss a note. I actually had to look up her age twice as I couldn’t believe how clear her voice continues to sound, and how energized she appeared on stage.
Raitt smiled, as if reading my mind, and waved her hand as she stated, “Don’t be afraid of aging” before she launched into “Nick of Time.” She dedicated songs to friends in the audience, including Helms’ daughter and her family friend Amy Helms.
The audience was packed with local musicians as well, including NipperFest headliners Super 400, Lee Harvey Blotto (Paul Rapp), and music connoisseur Steve Nover. And you could hear why: Raitt’s rendition of old songs made them new. Her performance of the 80s band INXS’s “Need You Tonight” had all the familiar words, chords and rhythms, but was made completely her own.
Raitt reflected on her losses these past few years, including our community loss of John Prine. When she sang “Angel from Montgomery,” the song written by Prine over 50 years ago, she worked through our collaborative grief at losing Prine while simultaneously lifting the audience into song.
Unafraid to offend, Raitt reflected on the war in Ukraine’s cruelty, the heartbreak of recent losses, and the very nature of love. The “local” girl (she spent a couple years of high school in Poughkeepsie, or “just down the road from here,” as she describes it) seems unchanged by her fame. She sang her songs, including the famous “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” with ease and grace of someone who almost seems unaffected by how world-famous she has become.
Raitt came to Albany on the holiest of days in the Christian and Jewish calendars, and she sanctified them even further with her authentic praise of human love and kindness through word and music. Raitt’s performance was indeed as spiritual an experience. When she returns in future years, make sure you don’t miss her blues-rock spiritual.