I last saw Bonnie Raitt 19 years ago in Vancouver. I remember it well. Her version of “Angel from Montgomery” was so moving it brought tears to my eyes.
At the time, I thought it probably had to do with the fact that she had Sarah McLachlan and Bryan Adams singing back up vocals with her on the John Prine classic.
On Tuesday night at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall, I learned different. There were no A-list celebrities with her on stage, just Raitt, her magnificent four-piece band and that wonderfully sad song about broken dreams and old rodeos.
Guess what? Those tears welled up again. I’ve got the streaks on my glasses to prove it.
She sang the song two thirds of the way through her hour-and-45-minute set. At the end of Angel the crowd of more than 1,600 spontaneously burst into a rare mid-show standing ovation. It was that powerful.
“I see you all out there and I feel you up here,” Raitt, 67, said as the audience roared its approval. “That song means a lot to us too.”
Raitt has always had a talent for searching out a great song, throwing her rope around it, lassoing it in and making it her own. She did that back in the early ’70s with “Angel from Montgomery” and its still serves her well. It has become one of Raitt’s signatures, like that shock of white in her fire-red hair, or her achingly sublime delivery of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
“I’m really the result of a great group of songwriters that I’ve been covering since I first started out in 1970,” Raitt confessed before dipping into Bonnie Bishop’s beautifully melancholy “Undone,” a track from her new album “Dig in Deep.”
And the covers kept coming – her biggest hit “Something to Talk About” by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard; another hit, “Thing Called Love,” by John Hiatt; INXS’s “Need You Tonight;” two blues numbers by early collaborator Chris Smither; the Afro-tinged gospel tune “Hear Me Lord” by Zimbabwe singer Oliver Mtudkudzi; the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “I Believe I’m in Love”; and a torrid version of “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads, saved for the encore.
They were all treated with Raitt’s warm vocal embrace and silky smooth slide guitar.
Not that Raitt isn’t a fine songsmith. She proved that with the radio-smooth classic “Nick of Time” and the angry rocker “Spit of Love.”
It would be negligent to not mention her long-time touring band – bassist James Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataan, guitarist George Marinelli and keyboard player Mike Finnigan.
All seasoned veterans, they fit Raitt like a glove. She jokingly referred to them as “a fine little combo,” but her respect for them was clear, especially in handing over the lead vocals to Finnigan for a powerful cover of B.B. King’s “Don’t Answer the Door.”
Nineteen years is too long between Bonnie Raitt concerts. But not long enough to forget how a song and a singer can match up so well … well enough to bring on a tear or two, maybe even three.
Toronto singer-songwriter Royal Wood deserves strong praise for his classy 40-minute opening set. Wood captured the attention of the Raitt fans from the moment he opened “Long Way Out.” By the time he was singing “Morning Light,” the crowd was clapping along with him. Wood is a remarkably intelligent songwriter and his new album “Ghost Light” deserves a listen.
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Graham Rockingham is the Hamilton Spectator’s music editor.
At FirstOntario Concert Hall
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
1. Unintended Consequences of Love
2. Need You Tonight (INXS cover)
3. Thing Called Love (John Hiatt cover)
4. Undone (Bonnie Bishop cover)
5. Spit of Love
6. Love Me Like a Man (Chris Smither cover)
7. I Feel the Same (Chris Smither cover)
8. Hear Me Lord (Oliver Mtukudzi cover)
9. Something to Talk About (Shirley Eikhard cover)
10. The Comin’ Round Is Going Through
11. Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)
12. Don’t Answer the Door (B.B. King cover with Mike Finnigan on vocals)
13. I Believe I’m in Love (Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)
14. What You’re Doing to Me
15. I Can’t Make You Love Me (written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin)
16. Nick of Time
17. Burning Down the House (Talking Heads cover)
18. Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes (written by Nan O’Bryne)
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