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State Fair Grandstand review: Pure Bonnie Raitt, from the bottom of her heart

on August 25, 2012 No comments
By Pioneer Press |

“Welcome to our soul sister extravaganza.”

So said Bonnie Raitt when she took the stage with her band following a revved-up revival meeting of an opening set by gospel great Mavis Staples. And what Raitt delivered at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand on Thursday, Aug. 23, was indeed soulful. Her sweet, sad alto voice and crying slide guitar solos provided the spark for a set that was built upon the blues, but was at its most arresting when at its quietest, when Raitt wove world-weary ballads, stepping onto an emotional tightwire and drawing the crowd’s admiration for making herself so vulnerable.

That’s why it was so hard to leave, even when the raindrops grew larger and lightning streaked the sky. But Raitt and her crew determined that worse weather was on the way, so they cut their set about 15 minutes short. Hence, the enthusiastic, mostly middle-aged crowd of 8,085 may have missed out on a couple of tunes from her back catalog, and were left to look back upon a show mostly made of material from Raitt’s latest album, “Slipstream,” her first fresh set of songs in seven years. But if the auburn-haired veteran wished to show that she’s still an outstanding vocal stylist who can make any song her own, she more than succeeded.

The strongest evidence came when she made Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles” a simmering slow blues full of end-of-her-rope exasperation or lent a wistful melancholy to Joe Henry and Loudon Wainwright III’s “You Can’t Fail Me Now.” But nothing was more powerful than when she began John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” with a magnetic a cappella opening verse that provided the kind of hear-a-pin-drop moment you rarely find at the Fair.

Raitt's concert something to talk about

Between songs, Raitt frequently expressed an affection for the Twin Cities that seemed genuine. Her late brother, Steve Raitt, lived here for years (she dedicated a couple of tunes to him), and local club veteran Willie Murphy sat in on piano and vocals for her final encore, trading verses with Raitt and making many in attendance rue the rain when the set was just starting to take on an enjoyable looseness.

While Raitt focused upon new songs, Staples stayed close to her gospel roots. Her raspy contralto is still an instrument that can stop you in your tracks, be she singing of her heavenly reward or covering the Band or John Fogerty. When Raitt joined her for a spirited “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” it was one of the evening’s most memorable moments.

Rob Hubbard can be reached at

Source: © Copyright Pioneer Press

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