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Concert Reviews:
Bonnie Raitt brings it home at Detroit's SoundBoard

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2012

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DETROIT -- If anyone needed proof that rock 'n' roll has no age limits, they only had to go to the Motor City Casino Hotel's SoundBoard on Thursday night, Aug. 16.

That's where Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples, aged 62 and 73 respectively, snorted fire and performed with the ferocious energy and passion of those half or even a third of their years. Each may have quipped about being long in the tooth -- "Another wonderful thing about this time of life -- each song is new," Raitt noted after forgetting how to set up her guitar for "Marriage Made in Heaven" -- but both proved that elder stateswoman status does not preclude contemporary relevance.

For Raitt, Thursday's show was part of a return after a lengthy hiatus -- and her first show inside the Detroit city limits in more than 20 years. Clearly refreshed and reinvigorated, she and her four-piece band steamed through 95 minutes that highlighted her latest album -- six of the 17 songs came from this year's "Slipstream," including a killer rendition of Bob Dylan's "Million Miles" and a reggaefied take on Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line" -- as well as hits such as "Something To Talk About," "Love Letter," "Have a Heart," her version of John Hiatt's "Thing Called Love" and a particularly funky "Love Sneakin' Up on You" during which Raitt laced her slide guitar between solos by guitarist George Marinelli and keyboardist Mike Finnigan.

The energy was high throughout the night -- which closed with Elvis Presley's "A Big Hunk O' Love" to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his death -- but when Raitt slowed things down the effect was devastating, with heart-wrenching but hardly over-emotive treatments of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery," which she began a capella and dedicated to her late mother, and "I Can't Make You Love Me."

Raitt treated the night as a sort of homecoming as well, giving props from the stage to Motown ("This town is so responsible for me loving funky music"), local singer Thornetta Davis, a super-fan from Grand Rapids named Mario and American Music Research Foundation founder Ron Harwood, who managed Raitt's mentor Sippie Wallace. Even Finnigan's brother and sister-in-law were in attendance (he dedicated Ray Charles' "I Got News For You" to them). "I've been coming here a long time," Raitt noted at one point. "You saw me in the 70s; I hope you see me IN my 70s -- and beyond."

It's safe to assume that everyone at SoundBoard on Thursday harbors that same hope.

Staples -- who called Raitt her "little sister" -- is already there, but she sang with the exuberance of a contestant on "American Idol" or "The Voice." The different, of course, is that even now she still has one of the most soulful and soul-lifting voices known to man, a powerful instrument that barely required the microphone she held on Thursday.

The Chicago icon's generous 50-minute opening set began with a gospel-flavored arrangement of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and stayed in church for "Didn't Old Pharaoh Get Lost (Creep Along Moses," "Wrote a Song For Everyone" and a cover of The Band's "The Weight," after which she paid tribute to the late Levon Helm." She also saluted her late father, Pops Staples, with his protest anthem "Freedom Highway" and had Raitt and Finnegan join her for a gutbucket "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" before finishing with the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There," initiating a call-and-response that challenged the crowd to keep up with her own powerhouse delivery.

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