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Live review: Bonnie Raitt at Bridgewater Hall

on June 16, 2023 No comments
By Jay Darcy

Fresh off her shock win at the Grammys, Bonnie Raitt visited the Bridgewater Hall as part of her UK tour

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the Grammys 2023 was the shock Song of the Year win. The nominees included Adele, Beyoncé, DJ Khaled, Gayle, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, Steve Lacy, and Tayor Swift – but the award went to Bonnie Raitt, with the little-known album track ‘Just Like That’. This prompted a bit of a backlash, with the Daily Mail scandalously referring to Bonnie, a 13 x Grammy winner and 30 x nominee, as an “unknown blues singer”.

This backlash, from people who had not even listened to the stunning song, was actually brilliant promo for Bonnie – because those who did not know who she was now knew!

Fresh off the back of her successful night at the Grammys, where she won three awards, Bonnie has returned to the UK to promote her new album, Just Like That…

Gareth Dunlop

Bonnie’s opening act was Northern Irish singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop. Whilst his music is not my cup of tea, I can appreciate his exceptional songwriting; it’s no surprise his songs have been featured in numerous films, television series, and commercials.

He opened his small set with ‘My Kind of Paradise’ before telling us, candidly, that he often struggles with social interactions and meaningful conversations, and his next song, ‘Can’t Stand Myself’, expressed those feelings beautifully.

Whilst much of his music is slow and moody, his third song, ‘Go Down Swinging’, is an upbeat tribute to his daughter.

Gareth told us that he lived in Nashville for around a decade, mainly writing songs for other artists and television series, including Lucifer, which prompted about three “woo”s – which Gareth was humoured by. Age-wise, most of the people in the audience were anywhere between middle-aged and prehistoric, and Lucifer is very much a millennial/Gen Z-kinda show!

Gareth sang the song he wrote for the show: the smoky ‘Devil in You’.

Before singing his final song – ‘Train Driver’, which I think he said is a tribute to his son – he told us that he had listened to a compilation as a kid and fell in love with Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Too Long at the Fair’ – so, clearly, opening for Bonnie was not merely a huge opportunity but also a dream come true.

Bonnie Raitt

I won’t lie, I was not all that familiar with Bonnie’s catalogue. I have loved ‘Something to Talk About’ for awhile – it’s one of my “liked” songs on Spotify – and, of course, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ is a musical masterpiece. But the main reason I wanted to see Bonnie was because I have a goal to see (and, ideally, review) as many female icons as possible, especially older ones who might not be touring for much longer – and Bonnie, believe it or not, is 73!

Not only does Bonnie look amazing but her voice has aged like fine wine; it’s gotten richer and warmer, which works wonderfully for her moody music.

Bonnie sang a real mixture of music: her hits, songs from the new album, and even some lesser-known non-single tracks from old albums. I’d love to know her thought process for constructing this setlist; she’s such a meticulous, skilled songwriter that, surely, the choice of songs, and the placing of them, is all very intentional.

Awhile into the show, Bonnie sang the gut-wrenching ‘Just Like That’, which she told us is inspired by a story she saw about a woman visiting the man whose life had been saved with her late son’s heart. The man had asked the woman if she wanted to lean on his chest and hear her son’s heartbeat – and, oh my, I’m tearing up just writing this.

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Bonnie’s soulful delivery makes the rich lyrics even more emotional. This beautiful song deserves its two Grammys, period.

After this, Bonnie wisely sang the upbeat ‘Something to Talk About’, her biggest chart hit in her native USA. As aforementioned, I love this song and have listened to it many times, so it was this performance that allowed me to fully appreciate the changes in Bonnie’s voice.

The audience were quite fond of Bonnie’s cover of INX‘s ‘Need You Tonight’, which she had previously recorded for an album, but it was the penultimate song of the main set, ‘Angel From Montgomery’, that had the audience on fire.

Originally recorded by John Prine, Bonnie’s version, albeit just an album track, is the best-known version of the song. Previously, Bonnie said this song “probably has meant more to my fans and my body of work than any other song” – and that was evident at the gig.

Bonnie ended the main set with ‘Love Sneakin’ up on You’, her final US hit and her only Canadian number one. The North Americans have given Bonnie a lot more love than us Brits – obviously, Americana and blues music are much more popular over there – but Bonnie has a lot of proud fans over here, with her Manchester gig almost sold out.

Bonnie opened the encore with her signature song, ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’. I’ve said this in many of  my live reviews: there is nothing quite like seeing an artist sing their signature song live – and this was no different. Bonnie’s aged voice added a sense of sorrow and suffering to the song.

Whilst ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ was not a hit in the UK, the late George Michael covered the song, and his version reached number three – so most people are familiar with the splendid song, even if they are unfamiliar with the original version.

Bonnie again followed a tragic tale with a heartwarming story. “So glad to sing about a love that works out for a change,” she said, before singing ‘Not the Only One’.

She ended the gig with the groovy ‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon’, originally recorded by B.B. King and a track on Bonnie’s first live album.

An audience member down front asked Bonnie if we can stand for this one, and she said of course. The entire audience took to their feet and bopped along to the song.

Most of Bonnie’s music is slow and soothing so it was great to end the night with one we could dance to; it was a celebratory end to the concert.

Whilst I knew Bonnie was a remarkable singer-songwriter, I had not realised just how good she still sounded (indeed, exactly a year prior, I had seen Diana Ross, whose voice has, sadly, not aged too well). I also did not know just how entertaining and funny she was; she’s incredibly likeable.

When I’m unfamiliar with an artist’s catalogue, I sometimes get a little bored and find myself waiting for the few songs I do know, but, just like that, Bonnie had me captivated from the very beginning.

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