I knew I was going to cry during Bonnie Raitt’s show, I just didn’t know how much. It settled at somewhere around four or five times during a two-hour set, which I’ll assume for my own benefit is an amount Raitt would be okay with, given that she was right there with me for some of those tears.
“You don’t want to have people rushing to the doors weeping,” Raitt told Entertainment Weekly of her new album, Dig in Deep, her first in five years. The first decade of the 2000s was rough for Raitt; she notably lost her father, mother, brother and a good friend, prompting her to take take a break before getting to work on her 2012 album Slipstream, a which won a Grammy for Best Americana Album and features tracks like a searing cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.”
Those who are more familiar with Raitt’s earlier work—classics like “Something to Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me”—might have missed Slipstream. It’d be naive to say that Raitt, at 66, is regularly garnering the attention of younger crowds; her fanbase sits very much with the type of audience attending Bruce Springsteen and James Taylor shows (Dig in Deep is currently #1 on the Blues charts, and peaked at 6th on the Rock charts). Baby boomers, despite any concern about the state of Social Security, have money to burn on the artists that shaped their youth, and they’ll spend it. And while publications like Rolling Stone cover artists like Raitt next to acts like Lady Gaga, newer media forms dominated by young people will always be caught up in those who are in their cohort.
As such, a Raitt show garners the attendees you’d expect; at her Saturday performance at the Beacon Theatre on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, there was quite a showing of middle-aged women sporting blonde highlights, some of whom really got loose during Raitt’s cover of INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” in which Raitt sings to a lover that there’s something about them that “makes me sweat.” But while Raitt readily thanked her loving audience for allowing her to continue to tour, acknowledging the many who don’t have the opportunity, to ascribe all of her musical relevance to the relatively silent group supporting it downplays her wondrous talent.
In a list of seemingly endless natural gifts, Raitt’s ability to effortlessly shift between jammin’ grooves, political statements (of which there are several on this album), and stirring lyrics cannot be overstated. “This record has probably some of my deepest personal digging,” she told Brittany Spanos last month. “(I did) some grief work with a support person and I just really felt all the things that had been pushed aside by all that loss and trauma. And I came out of it really grateful,” she told the AP.
I only got one ticket to Raitt’s show, and I’m not sure there’s anyone living with whom I would have truly wanted to attend. There are certain artists whose shows you know will move you, where you can anticipate that their lifetime of performing experience will jar you and linger past the initial rush. To experience a show like this the wrong person who doesn’t feel it the way you do would, in a sense, dishonor the experience, which frankly at times felt what I imagine some must feel about religious experiences: your feelings don’t overwhelm as much as become a conversation with yourself and something greater.
To see a musician with the longevity of Raitt guarantees a certain number of hits will be doled out, which you’d think would be the songs guaranteed to get the audience going. But it’s a testament to her work that her new album, out for just a few weeks, comprised most of her set list and roused her fans as much as any of the old classics. Raitt’s been through it, which makes her take on Pat McLaughlin’s “I Knew” sit tight:
Time, time ain’t never healed the wound/Can’t think of anything that gets/Any better ‘cause it’s old
Change, change would probably do me good/Wouldn’t probably hurt a thing/Anyway, that’s what I’m told
Despite her deep sadness, a verve for life coasts through her sets, her voice miraculously clear and filling the room, leaving you with a sense that whatever you’re feeling, whatever she’s felt, you’ll get through it and it’ll be more than alright. Raitt dedicated several songs to family and friends she named, specifically calling out Joan Osborne (who was apparently in the audience) before performing “Undone” by Bonnie Bishop, marveling at how someone so young could know so much about pain.
We hurt the ones we love the most/a thousand memories go up in smoke/And in the morning, when ashes fall/there’ll be no need for any words at all
For all her praise for Bishop, Raitt neglected to mention that she was in her twenties when she recorded John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” with its mournful plea that she’s looking for “just... one thing” to “hold on to.”
After her rendition of that track on Saturday, Raitt seemed overcome, covering her face for a long pause, before saying she’d take a backseat on the next song, playing guitar as keyboardist Mike Finnigan did his own version of B.B. King’s “Don’t Answer the Door.”
I don’t know how many other tears were shed watching Raitt Saturday, but following my first few, I stopped caring. It didn’t matter much: I was there, Bonnie was right in front of me, and it felt, however briefly, like we were in it together.
Image via AP