Bonnie Raitt is one of us. Well, almost. We sure treat her like she is. And she reciprocates.
“I get emotional when I’m here,” she said on Wednesday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis.
Then the memories started flooding in.
“The Triangle Bar, the Joint, the Cabooze,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer said, naming some of her old West Bank haunts. “They’re in my Rolodex of the trouble I caused. I came to roll around in joy for the five decades I’ve been coming here.”
By now, you’ve probably heard the back story. Ever since recording her debut album on Lake Minnetonka in 1971 with producer Willie Murphy, the California singer/guitarist has been a regular visitor to the Gopher State. Especially when her late brother Steve, an engineer/producer, lived here for three decades. She would come here to water ski, hang out and listen to live music.
On Wednesday, the chatty Raitt conducted a roll call of all her musical friends who were at the State Theatre: Maurice Jacox, Bobby Vandell, Melanie Rosales and Ricky Peterson, who has toured in her band.
Raitt, 73, has performed dozens of times in the Twin Cities — from her debut at the Whole Coffeehouse at the University of Minnesota to big gigs at Xcel Energy Center and the State Fair (eight times at the grandstand, 1990-2016). Last summer, she rocked the new Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park, near St. Cloud.
© Tony Nelson /Special to the Star Tribune
Surprisingly, the road warrior hasn’t appeared at a Twin Cities theater in this century. The last one was the Orpheum in 1998, not counting a 2013 charity gala at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The ever-popular star’s concert Wednesday at the 2,200-seat State Theatre sold out well in advance. (She probably could have filled it for a second night.)
It was the penultimate show on a two-year tour, and, frankly, Raitt seemed a little tired. While she was emotional in her conversation, she was maybe less so in her singing.
There were winning moments, though, including a bluesy and brooding treatment of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” the bluesy, jazzy, Mose Allison-evoking “Blame It on Me” with Glenn Patscha’s crying organ, and her own acoustic guitar ballad “Just Like That,” a rivetingly poignant true story about a woman who lost her 25-year-old son but got to hear his heart transplanted in another man. (Raitt did not mention that “Just Like That” won the Grammy in February for song of the year and the Americana Music Award last month for best song.)
By contrast, Raitt’s version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” (which she dedicated to the TC Jammers band at Bunkers) lacked its usual lusty vibes, and she and her four-man band’s timing was off during “Something to Talk About,” her frisky 1991 hit. However, the group found its groove when Raitt and veteran Boston guitarist Duke Levine, who signed on just last year, jammed briefly on the reggae-flavored “Have a Heart,” another early ’90s tune.
The 13-time Grammy winner explained that she gets verklempt whenever she sings “Angel From Montgomery,” John Prine’s remarkable reflection of an older woman stuck in a bad marriage that she recorded in 1974. On this night, it was seasoned with Levine’s mandolin and Patscha’s elegantly mournful piano before Raitt delivered the last vocal line with a hauntingly painful ache in her voice. Goosebumps, hankies and a standing ovation.
To change the mood, Raitt and her band — with its terrific and longtime rhythm section of bassist Hutch Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar — tore it up on Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”
For the encore, Raitt downshifted to the ultimate heartbreaker, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” her momentous 1991 piano ballad. When she raised her voice on the final chorus, the crowd cheered loudly. Patscha offered a sorrowful piano passage with a little classical flourish for the coda.
Raitt was so overcome that she told her band, “I can’t sing another sad song, guys.” So she skipped the planned piece on her set list and instead moved into the hard-charging 2003 boogie “Gnawin’ on It,” featuring opening act Roy Rogers on acoustic slide guitar. Finally, some genuine guitar fireworks as the two friends exchanged smokin’ slide passages.
For the finale, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” a Crusaders tune made famous by B.B. King, Raitt brought out Ricky Peterson from the audience. Currently part of Stevie Nicks’ band, Peterson unleashed some seriously funky organ that prompted Raitt to start dancing and jamming on guitar with Rogers. The giddy redhead looked like she was having as much fun as she did on the West Bank back in the day.
“I wish I could stay here for a month,” Raitt declared during the encore. Alas, she has one more show on the tour — “Austin City Limits,” television’s long-lived live music program.