Bonnie Raitt At Massey Hall in Toronto on Saturday
The ghost of John Lee Hooker was addressed but not summoned at Massey Hall on Saturday. The great American singer Bonnie Raitt, midway through her soulful and just-sassy-enough concert, looked above and murmured, "I'm in the mood, John Lee," a reference to a sultry moan of a duet she once recorded with the one-bourbon bluesman.
She didn't play that song, and the remark wasn't for her audience's benefit anyhow, for the sold-out crowd surely knew the mood of the playful 62-year-old already.
"Kiss me when you do that," she quipped, when her guitar tech caused a rude burst of static as he leaned in close to unplug one of her instruments. When the opening-act performer Marc Cohn joined her on stage for a finale of Van Morrison's Crazy Love, she embraced the Walking in Memphis singer, the pair laughing just a little too long. And earlier, when told the venue on Shuter Street had been built in 1895, the twinkle-eyed Raitt remarked that she was still playing folk clubs back then.
A wisecrack to be sure, but bluesy Raitt's own well-preserved state was no joke: Her red mane (with the signature splash of white) was a miracle of Clairol's best science; her scratchy, whisky-glazed mezzo soprano was as healing an instrument as ever; and those dark jeans she flatteringly wore could have been part of her wardrobe in '74.
The slide-guitarist's new album is Slipstream. "I'm so happy to have new ones to play," she said, first thing. "Let's go." Raitt and her long-time band did just that, opening with the funky New Orleans groove of I Used to Rule the World and offering 17 more, including the following notable moments.
Right Down the Line: "I just wanna say this is my way," Raitt sang, "of telling you everything I could never say before." Before offering a reggae-bounced, clavinet-springy version of the late Gerry Rafferty's hit from 1977, Raitt dedicated the cover to that underrated singer-songwriter. The island lilt was exquisite; the tribute, sublime.
Something to Talk About: Raitt gave a shout-out to the song's writer, New Brunswick's Shirley Eikhard: "She's from your neck of the woods." Her opening slide-guitar lick was instantly recognizable, but the 1991 hit came too early in the set. The likable tune is meant to move to, but the audience wasn't yet ready to stand up and groove.
Love Sneakin' Up on You: In some cultures, stealing a Stevie Wonder clavinet motif is viewed as a mocking of the gods, but that's just superstition. Raitt's upbeat, feel-good hit from 1994 sounded better than ever, especially without the synthesizer counter-riff from the original arrangement.
Angel From Montgomery: Raitt had a signature hit with the John Prine classic of longing and desperation in 1974, and has changed the arrangement often since then. At Massey, she began a cappella – somberly offering sentiments about an old woman named after her mother. Raitt scored big with the song in 1974 and the years have indeed flowed by "like a broken down dam." A standing ovation was a deserved one.
I Can't Make You Love Me: A ballad in the pensive style that someone like Adele has obviously studied, Raitt 1991's hit written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin was offered with the Hammond B-3 player Mike Finnigan now on electric piano and the singer on a stool, her legs crossed. She poured all of herself into the heavy emotion, sighing as she finished. Before the number, Raitt had acknowledged her fans' adoration. "I love you guys too, man," she said. "It's working out." Apparently so.
Bonnie Raitt plays Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Aug.10; Calgary's Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Aug. 13.
Set list: Used to Rule the World, Right Down the Line, Something To Talk About, Million Miles, You Can't Fail Me Now, Love Sneakin' Up on You, Come to Me, Marriage Made In Hollywood, Ain't Gonna Let You Go, Not 'Cause I Wanted To, Angel From Montgomery, Love Me Like a Man, I Got News For You, I Feel So Damn Good (I'll Be Glad When I Get The Blues), A Big Hunk O' Love. Encore: I Can't Make You Love Me, Have a Heart, Crazy Love.