Legendary country-blues artist Bonnie Raitt has to be one of the warmest, most likeable performers in the industry. Complementing her successful career with a lifelong devotion to various social causes, Raitt has earned the admiration of fans and fellow musicians alike for her musical honesty and activism. But the reason behind the 55-year-old singer and guitarist’s continued musical relevance is simple: the woman kicks ass. Performing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Michigan Theater on Tuesday night, Raitt, backed by a five-piece band, burned through a 90-minute set with the flair and panache of a performer half her age as well as the command of a seasoned veteran.
After toiling throughout the ’70s and ’80s to critical acclaim but relative commercial obscurity, Raitt broke out into mainstream with her poppy 1989 album Nick of Time and its successful follow-up, Luck of the Draw. Having toured for over 30 years now, Raitt sounds equally confident covering the acoustic blues of her early albums and the country-tinged pop-rock of recent years, drawing up several tracks from her 2005 release, Souls Alike.
Raitt and her band opened the night with a silky new blues number, “On One Condition,” cutting loose her trademark slide guitar solo over a syncopated vamp. Seamlessly initiating a warm rapport with the audience, Raitt began her jokes early: “Religion is for those afraid to go hell – Spirituality is for those of us who have already been there,” she mused before launching into the muddy, bayou-inflected “God Was in the Water.”
Raitt’s melodic, liquid guitar solos stood as concise musical statements and contrasted well with the flashier, technical stylings of second guitarist George Marinelli. Of course, the strongest and most prevalent instrument was Raitt’s voice, a clear and emotive croon that whispered, soared and cracked ever so slightly at all the right moments.
After the first half of the set showcased various new songs, the second portion of the show saw the band dipping into older hits, such as “Love Sneakin’ Up On You,” “Luck of the Draw” and “Something to Talk About.” In covering a broad range of material, Raitt and her group demonstrated their versatility as one their greatest strengths. They comfortably laid down salty 12-bar blues, sultry R&B ballads and bouncy country shuffles.
After playing two slow, soulful numbers, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and “I Don’t Want Anything to Change,” the band ended the evening with a final blast of upbeat country-rock. Exiting to thunderous applause from a double-encore set, Raitt demonstrated on Tuesday night that even at 55, she has no intention of slowing down. On the contrary – she seems to be just getting started.