Review: Bonnie Raitt brings the blues back to the Austin City Limits soundstage for Season 38 appearance
Originally published on CultureMap.com.
Longstanding mistress of rock and blues, Bonnie Raitt returned to the Austin City Limitsstage on Wednesday night for her first appearance on the show in over a decade.
In its 38-year history, Raitt has only graced the famed stage twice: first in 1984 and again in 2002 for a gathering with a few of her musical soul mates. Her performance maintained all the intimacy you’d expect, while highlighting some strong Texas ties that have made Bonnie Raitt a cherished honorary member of the Austin music scene.
Her hour-long set was masterfully executed: blues guitar fills and expert keys set against soulful, sultry and effortless vocals. Even with her signature grey locks, Raitt’s presence was playful and spirited — more reflective of her youthful Home Platealbum cover than of a woman who’s been playing the blues since 1970.
She opened with “Used To Rule The World” as a tribute to Stephen Bruton, Austin’s late blues hero who spent years on the road as Raitt’s guitarist and produced the music for Crazy Heartbefore his death in 2009.
Other highlights included an emotional cover of “Not Cause I Wanted To” co-written by Austin’s own Bonnie Bishop, before another rousing tribute to Bruton.
For her second tribute, Raitt kept the mood light, playing for what she called the “other side of Stephen.” In honor of Bruton, “Love Sneakin’ Up On You,” offered all of the bluesy-Bonnie riffs that Austin ears came to love from Bruton’s Sunday night performances at Saxon Pub. It was effortless and inherently sexy. Following “Sneakin’,” Raitt launched into “Thing Called Love,” giving the audience a little taste of her 1989 blockbuster album, Nick of Time.
Though Raitt teased the audience with some of her biggest hits from the late 1980s, most of the set highlighted her latest album, Slipstream, an effort that dropped in April. Raitt’s highest charting record in two decades, Slipstreamis a carefully crafted return to the roots of some of her biggest hits.
In an emotional, hushed moment, Raitt closed the show with a poignant rendition of “Angel from Montgomery.” The tune already appeared on Austin City Limitswhen Raitt performed it with John Prine in 2002. But she played it anyway, this time as a memorial for her fallen family, and as a thank you to an attentive, connected audience that she called “a mighty friendly crowd.”
The night continued with an appearance from legendary singer, Mavis Staples,who brought the house down with her soulful cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” and was joined by Raitt for an awe-inspiring gospel finale of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
The performance is set to air on PBS in October, around the time that she will return for to Austin for another Moody Theater appearance in support of Slipstream. Tickets to her October 3 concert are available here.