Live Report: Bonnie Raitt

The Fifth Avenue Theatre, Seattle, June 2 1998

Bonnie Raitt has had a love affair with Seattle for more than twenty-five years. Even when she was going through what she called the "hell" of the "slammin' 'Eighties," a time that found her wrapped in more boas than a dancehall queen and bloated with booze, she could always find solace with her fans in the smaller clubs of the Emerald City.

Those fans were out in force for the first of two sold out shows at the Fifth Avenue Theatre Tuesday night. Raitt, commenting on the theater's grand, baroque design, said she'd "like to have some of whatever the guy who designed this place was taking." When the laughter subsided, she reminded the audience of her less than stellar days, and reiterated just how good it felt to be back.

It must have been. Raitt and her steamrolling band put on a two-hour performance that was at once technically polished and movingly soulful. Raitt's husky, well-controlled wail easily cut through her band's accompaniment and her legendary slide playing, as a matter of course, was smooth and sublime.

While concentrating on her most recent release, Fundamental, she mixed the new and old tit for tat. After kicking off the set with the title tune from the new work, she stepped back a couple of years for "Something to Talk About." Both allowed plenty of space for her band to get warmed up and from there it was time for a ride.

Longtime drummer Rick Fataar and bassist Hutch Hutchinson anchored the sound, while Raitt, guitarist Rick Vito and pianist John Cleary built upon the foundation with exemplary playing. Cleary's New Orleans boogie rolled throughout the show, his effortless playing evoking nothing short of Chuck Berry sideman Johnnie Johnson. Vito, who brought a subtle rockabilly presence to the stage, matched Raitt almost note for note. Both Cleary and Vito also contributed strong vocal support.

Show highlights included a cover of John Hiatt's bittersweet "Lovers Will;" an almost psychedelic "Spit of Love" (one of Raitt's most tortured and personal songs); "Love Letters," in a crunch-groove version so funky it dripped 30 weight; and an achingly beautiful rendition of "I Can't Make You Love Me."

Raitt encored with John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery." Even though she's been doing this song for more than twenty-five years, she still managed to make it as fresh and poignant as the day it was delivered.

Blues guitarist and singer/songwriter Keb' Mo opened the show with an upbeat, affable set of well-played originals. Raitt joined the singer for one song and he reciprocated by joining Raitt for two during her set. The respect and appreciation the two share for each other was obvious, and it well served the evening's embrace of tradition.