Authentic and genuine are not words usually associated with rock and roll. Bonnie Raitt, however, is a refreshing exception to this rule of thumb in so many ways. Perhaps that is why the best word to describe her performance on Saturday at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is comfortable.
Playing to a capacity crowd, Raitt turned the Schnitz into her own living room, sharing her stories and music with those in attendance. The concert had that comfortable feeling of an old friend stopping by for a visit.
After 40 years in music, Raitt is certainly a friend to many and has a remarkable fondness for Portland. As the crowd demonstrated on Saturday, the feeling is entirely mutual.
Raitt’s current run of 40 fall dates is a continuation of last year’s Slipstream tour, in support of the album of the same name. It is no surprise, then, that Saturday’s performance drew heavily from the album, featuring six songs out of the 18-song set.
She did include some of her more well-known classics, including “Real Man,” “Something to Talk About,” “Come to Me” and “Love Letter.” Her four-song encore also included the 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which has become one of her signature songs. Sitting on a stool, Raitt sang the first verse unaccompanied.
John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” was one of several highlights of the evening. Raitt dedicated the song to her mother, who passed in 2004. Raitt sang portions of the song a cappela and received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the song.
While many fans expect the standard repertoire of these previous hits, Raitt seemed to draw much more enjoyment from material that was either contained on “Slipstream” or was culled from more obscure sources, many drawn directly from her bluesy roots.
“Love Me Like a Man,” from her second album in 1972, was flawless after a false start which featured her pick flying off of a finger. Accompanied only by bass and her acoustic guitar, Raitt’s version was earthy and raw, just as the song should be. Likewise, “I Feel So Damn Good (I’ll Be Glad When I Get the Blues)” showed that Raitt is one of the best female blues artists of her generation.
And what a generation it has been for her. Now in her fifth decade of performing, Raitt has ample material to draw from. She is a master at rearranging and covering songs, and this is where she really shined during the concert.
Bob Dylan’s “Standing in the Doorway” was part of a sequence of songs where Raitt told the crowd: “I feel kinda frisky right now.” Frisky indeed, as she rocked the song with her deft slide playing. She wrapped up the night with Al Anderson’s “Split Decision,” another great blues cut from “Slipstream.”
Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” was another unexpected treat, when Raitt was joined onstage by opener Marc Cohn. Trading verses and lines within verses, the two pulled off the song more like old friends getting together to kick back and jam than lovers considering their relationship.
While there is not anything crazy about the affinity Raitt and her Portland fans share for each other, the song captured the evening’s vibe perfectly: Some old friends sitting down for a comfortable visit.
You can come back any time, Bonnie.