Eighteen years have passed since Bonnie Raitt joined Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, and other musical luminaries at the legendary “No Nukes” concert at Madison Square Garden. And while many of her way-back-when peers who also performed at that show have since suffered artistic or commercial setbacks — see Jackson Browne, Carly Simon, the Doobie Brothers — the red-haired roots-rock diva has demanded that Father Time treat her right.
In what was billed as the largest anti-nuclear concert since then, Raitt and the cause-obsessed Indigo Girls journeyed to the nation’s capital to protest the burial of nuclear waste on Native American land. The crowd was also treated to several surprises — a weathered-looking Browne kicked off the evening with an impromptu, three-song set and pop-folksinger Beth Nielsen Chapman hopped onstage for what seemed like every other song — but the evening’s most satisfying moments came when Raitt curled her whiskey-n-smoke-solid voice around one of her trademark slide-guitar licks.
In a daring, potentially disastrous move, Raitt opened her portion of the show with an a cappella version of Chapman’s new “Color of Roses.” “It’s gonna take a lot of ovaries for me to sing this in front of the woman who wrote it,” Raitt laughed nervously. “But Beth, I love you.” Raitt treated the dirge-like song with solemn respect, conveying more emotion at 48 than she could have at 30.
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As the crowd erupted — some even stood for a shrieking ovation — Raitt invited her three-man backing band (drums, bass, piano) onstage, strapped on a guitar, and ripped into the old Aretha Franklin standard, “Baby I Love You.” If that wasn’t steamy enough, she followed it with a slowed-down bump-and-grind version of “The Road’s My Middle Name.” “Ooh, this is getting sooo slinky,” Raitt purred during her solo, directing her power poses and double entendres at husband Michael O’Keefe. She later tore into Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” then slipped casually into the obligatory “Thing Called Love.” For an encore, Raitt invited the Indigo Girls, Chapman, and Native American singing group Ulali onstage to join her on “Angel From Montgomery” and the Buffy Sainte-Marie classic “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”