Bonnie Raitt, California Honeydrops
Revention Music Center
April 29, 2016
In a year when we’ve lost too many musical legends, it’s good to see one back out there on the road, still performing at the top of her game. Bonnie Raitt has been around long enough (40 years or so, if we’re counting) to experience all the ups and downs, struggles and successes that a life in the music biz can throw at a person, and she’s still standing tall. At 66, she’s got plenty of power left in those pipes, and she still looks terrific in a pair of blue jeans, too — and God bless her, she can still fill up one of the biggest music halls in Houston, Texas, on a Friday night.
It was an older crowd who turned out to see her at Revention Music Center, to be sure. Nearly everybody I could see looked over 50, and hey, that might be a little generous on my part. Very few of them had ever heard of her opening act, the California Honeydrops, but they showed up early, anyway. It was lucky that they did, because the Bay Area band sounded great.
Front man Lech Wierzynski uncorked a real sweet singing voice on the group’s Motown-ish opening number, and then he put down his guitar and picked up a trumpet for a dueling horn duet with the saxophonist on the lightly funky R&B number “Like This, Like That.” The graying crowd filing in might have been unfamiliar with the group, but these fans knew their way around a shuffling backbeat. They applauded all the solos and grooved happily in their seats, cheering loudest when the Honeydrops’ drummer broke out a mean washboard.
By the time Bonnie appeared, we were thoroughly warmed up and ready for her. She arrived onstage in a good mood, happy to be slumming it in the mostly concrete converted convention center.
“We just played an opera house in Dallas,” she told her adoring fans. “You’re going to be able to get loose in here, I can hear it!”
Raitt’s opening song of the evening was the first of quite a few covers: INXS’s “Need You Tonight.” That probably sounds like kind of an absurd choice, I know, but in her hands, it sounded like a Bonnie Raitt song. It was a high-energy opener that had folks jumping out of their seats early — a lot of them with cameraphones at the ready.
Bonnie didn’t like that, and she bade us turn them off. “This is real music in real time,” she said, causing those of us taking notes on our phones to shift uncomfortably in our seats a bit as our neighbors righteously glared at us. But it was smooth sailing from there. Raitt showed off some of her signature slide-guitar licks on “I Knew,” a ballad from her new disc, Dig In Deep, and then regaled us with tales of playing Rockefeller’s and Liberty Hall in Houston back when she was breaking out. Then she locked into a little Texas soul, breaking off a wailing Stratocaster solo on the song “Undone,” written by native Houstonian Bonnie Bishop.
Some more quality covers followed, like Los Lobos’ country-rock “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” and Sippie Wallace’s spirited blues “Women Be Wise.” There was an obligatory Prince tribute in there, too, because of course those two hung out: “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which the Artist covered on his Emancipation album. Good stuff, all.
Raitt’s biggest hit, “Something to Talk About,” was sort of buried halfway through the set, but it stood out anyway; the biggest cheers of recognition all night went up when she led her band into that one. “Angel From Montgomery,” with its tasty mandolin solo, got almost as big a standing ovation next, though. Bonnie was clearly feeling the love up there, and feeling the theater’s bare-bones layout, as well.
“I like that I can see you all,” she told us, smiling. “This is like a sporting event!”
The last song of the night was an old one, 1975’s “Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes.” It was a lovely acoustic number, featuring more mandolin and some nice squeezebox sounds from organist Mike Finnigan. But I was still reeling from the penultimate tune — Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”! Never would have guessed that one would have been so well-suited to Raitt’s style, but a hit’s a hit, and Bonnie’s never been given to turning one down. Here’s hoping she’s got plenty more left in her.
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Personal Bias: No joints replaced yet.
The Crowd: Old, but loose.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Put your phone away!”
Random Notebook Dump: One of the amplifier heads had a strange, wooden doll perched atop it. Creepy. I kept waiting for it to hop down and shuffle into the dark someplace.