Bonnie Raitt Captivates in Chicago

"I should go away more often," Bonnie Raitt told the hooting-and-hollering crowd at the Chicago Theatre on Saturday evening before unspooling a multi-song encore highlighted by the heart-wrenching 1991 ballad "I Can't Make You Love Me."  Raitt, of course, was referring to the two years she had spent away from the road – a break that ended earlier this month when she kicked off an 80-plus-show tour in Oklahoma. Judging by her admitted amazement at the Saturday crowd’s overwhelmingly positive reception, and the size and classiness of the venue, Raitt seems quite pleased to be back. "I'll never forget this," Raitt said. 

The ginger-topped singer’s time away from the stage was a definite change of pace; Raitt had been playing live shows for nearly four decades straight – or, more specifically, "18 album-cycles nonstop," as she recently told Rolling Stone. But the downtime gave her the opportunity to cope with the deaths of her parents and her brother and to record Slipstream, her first album in seven years, the bulk of which was on prominent display at the first of two sold-out Chicago shows.

Raitt’s new tunes fit snugly into her incredibly expansive catalog of hits that have consistently displayed a natural knack for pop, blues and jazz sensibilities – and, of course, a wicked mastery of the slide-guitar. Raitt’s new material was tight and polished on Saturday. After opening with the melodic strut of "Used To Rule The World," Raitt unleashed the first of a handful of cover songs that popped up throughout the evening with the slinky reggae groove of her take on Gerry Rafferty's 1978 gem "Right Down The Line." Later, after removing her signature slide, now armed with a Taylor acoustic, Raitt serenaded the crowd with a spare rendition of "Million Miles," a Bob Dylan deep-cut off 1997's Time Out Of Mind, an album Raitt explained she was especially fond of.

Raitt has always split the difference between electric blues fantasy, pop-rock and acoustic ballads. Saturday was no different: several times she careened from a bluesy strut ("Love Sneaking Up On You," "Love Letter") to a pop nugget ("Something To Talk About") or an understated lullaby ("Not Cause I Wanted To").

It did take some time, however, for Raitt to find her groove; For the first third of the show she appeared slightly terse and rigid. But the visibly evident trust and adoration she has for her four-piece band – guitarist George Marinelli, keyboardist Mike Finnigan, bassist "Hutch" Hutchinson, and drummer Ricky Fataar – allowed the singer to loosen up as the show progressed. Raitt even eased up so much as to unleash some humor (she joked that jazz music is when a band guesses the key a song is in) and pause several times for a lipstick-application break. At times, Raitt, wearing black jeans and a blazer bedazzled with purple arrows pointing to both her head and heart, got downright giddy. For the final song of the night, she brought out opening act, Marc Cohn, and his guitarist to aid in the group-hug that was Van Morrison's "Crazy Love," during which she and Cohn, both wearing massive smiles, slow-danced during a musical interlude.

It was a pleasure to see Raitt in good spirits. But it was the night’s heaviest moment that resonated the most. "I'm at that age where parents start going and people are sick," Raitt said quietly, before breaking into an achingly beautiful rendition of the 1971 John Prine classic "Angel From Montgomery," which she dedicated to her late mother. "I don't take anything for granted anymore."

Set List:

"Used To Rule The World"

"Right Down The Line"

"Something To Talk About"

"Million Miles"

"You Can't Fail Me Now"

"Love Sneaking Up On You"

"Come To Me"

"Marriage Made in Hollywood"

"Ain't Gonna Let You Go"

"Not Cause I Wanted To"

"Angel From Montgomery"

"Down To You"

"Love Letter"

"I Feel So Damn Good (I'll Be Glad When I Get the Blues)"

"I Can't Make You Love Me"

"Nick of Time"

"Crazy Love"