BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
“It’s hard to believe you get a job where you’re healthier now than you were at the beginning.”
So said Bonnie Raitt a few songs into her stellar concert Saturday night at The Fox Theatre (or, as she recalled, “The theater where Little Feat recorded” a live 1975 album that featured Raitt and JD Souther).
Looking slender in fitted black pants and a dark turquoise blouse, her hair still competing with the hue of a firetruck, Raitt and her smokin’ four-piece band steamrolled through blues, soul, gospel and rock for two hours, proving that age – at least for her – is irrelevant.
Raitt hit the stage in a spunky and playful mood and immediately enhanced her version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” with an aura of slinkiness that makes everything sound a little smokier and sexier.
As her left hand glided across the fretboard, Raitt instinctively crouched into effortlessly cool playing positions; she followed the organ flourishes from keyboardist Mike Finnigan on Randall Bramblett’s “Used to Rule the World” and toe-tapped along with “Hutch” Hutchinson’s creeping bass line that powers “I Knew,” one of several songs played from her robust album, “Dig in Deep,” released earlier this year.
Raitt’s observation about feeling healthier now, at almost 67, compared to her career in the ‘70s is no doubt tied to her 30 years of sobriety. But there is a visible hunger when she performs, an insistence on caring, even though fans would have accepted a lesser version just to share her space for 120 minutes.
Her voice on the gorgeous new “Undone” – dedicated to soul man William Bell, who was in the crowd – rang strong and clear through the theater, a perfect marriage of gravel and honey.
Raitt sprinkled the show with non-partisan political observations that were pointed, but not preachy. “Election Day is my birthday – I’m in for a spanking either way,” she quipped and, before the raspy rocker “The Comin’ Round is Going Through,” which Raitt called “an equal opportunity rant,” she stated, “The system is broken. We’re going to fix it no matter who gets in.”
She also spent plenty of time name checking everyone from the lighting director (the musicians played in front of a backdrop of a lovely pastel sunset) to Atlanta musical treasures Caroline Aiken and Emily Saliers and Amy Ray of The Indigo Girls, whom she mentioned before a spellbinding version of “Angel from Montgomery,” which guitarist George Marinelli enriched with a powerful mandolin solo.
Raitt not only educated the audience about the blues with a cover of Sippie Wallace’s “Woman Be Wise” — three of the horn players from opening band The California Honeydrops added some swampy New Orleans swing – and world music with Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Hear Me Lord,” which spotlighted drummer Ricky Fataar, but she reminded what a potent musical force she is herself.
She had a blast tickling the strings with her slide guitar tube on most songs, but Raitt’s traditional playing is equally adept (demonstrated on “I Feel the Same”) and her unfettered keyboard work during the set-closing “What You’re Doin’ to Me” was an exhilarating display.
Quite simply, Raitt’s vitality is an inspiration.