Bonnie Raitt at MGM Music Hall, Boston, 6/15/24




Concert Reviews

In turns playful and heartbreaking, the blueswoman extraordinaire was in peak form at MGM Music Hall.

Bonnie Raitt at MGM Music Hall, Boston, 6/15/24
Bonnie Raitt, here at the Leader Bank Pavilion in 2022, took over MGM Music Hall at Fenway Saturday night. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

I wonder if Bruce Springsteen is ever a little bit jealous of Bonnie Raitt. After all, The Boss — who famously opened for Raitt 50 years ago in Harvard Square, on the night he was declared to be “Rock and Roll Future” — still seems to feel like he has to dominate the stage like a whirling dervish. Whereas his contemporary Bonnie, as she showed at MGM Music Hall Saturday, exudes every bit as much presence and command just standing center stage, baring her heart and soul through the slow burn of her startlingly expressive blues guitar licks.

Granted, the sold-out MGM crowd was clearly full of true believers — a prolonged standing ovation greeted Raitt as she took the stage, smiling beneath her trademark red coif with just a shock of gray. But the poise, warmth, and sheer musicianship of her 17-song set would likely have won over any random visitor who might have wandered in from the Red Sox game next door. (Yes, even a Yankee fan!)

Bonnie was clearly tickled at the idea of playing in such close proximity to the fabled ballpark, despite obvious concerns (“I was worried about you all finding a parking space,” she admitted, understandably), and to be in Boston in general: She even shouted out J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf (who was there), and senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren (who weren’t). Plus her band has its own local pedigree, with guitarist Duke Levine hailing from Worcester and bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson having grown up in Somerville.

She also, in response to a particularly loud “We love ya, Bah-nie!,” shared her love for our local accent with a story of a regular Boston concert-goer who would yell, “Bah-nie, I want yah body!” “All of a sudden in my 50s it disappeared,” she playfully lamented. “Somewhere, wherever he is, I hope he still wants my body.”

As for the music, well, it was clear right from the bluesy opening bars of “I Sho Do” that at age 74, she hasn’t lost a step. Hitting the high notes with apparent ease, she’s also clearly reached the blues singer sweet spot of having just enough gravel in her voice to make the world-weary lyrics come across more expressively than ever. This was especially true on her acoustic cover of Bob Dylan’s swampy “Million Miles,” with her supple-but-never-syrupy vocals bringing more smoke than swamp to the proceedings. (Although it was still pretty swampy.)

Another thing pretty obvious from the get-go was that this probably wasn’t going to be a night about well-known songs and catchy hooks. But no matter: the second number, “God Was in The Water” from Raitt’s 2005 album “Soul Away” — a moody meditation on the general state of things in the world (not great) — was mesmerizing in the way it settled into a chugging blues vibe that wound up seeping through and carrying the whole night. (It’s worth noting that the first real “hit” of the show, 1991’s “Something To Talk About,” didn’t come until nine songs in.)

Raitt was clear to note that she didn’t write most of these songs, despite what you might read on the internet, but it’s always been her skills as a song stylist that’s set Bonnie apart. This is never truer than on “Angel from Montgomery,” which she dedicated to its author, the late John Prine: She noted that she’s been singing it since 1971, but its opening line — “I am an old woman, named after my mother, my old man is another child that’s grown old” — no doubt hits much harder now, for both her and us.

Raitt’s captured most of these interpretations on her records, but delivered live, songs like The Bros. Landreth’s “Made Up Mind” and “Blame It On Me” — a stunning torch song written for Raitt by John Capek and Andrew Matheson — feel even more moving and personal, full of pregnant pauses and tossed-off spoken lines that make them feel like intimate conversations. (Raitt ends “Blame” with a sad howl that simultaneously chills and thrills.)

Of course, if you doubt Raitt’s own song-writing bonafides, listening to some of the songs she did pen will dispel that notion pretty quick. Her Grammy-winning “Just Like That,” off of 2022’s album of the same name, was performed to reverent silence on the part of the Boston crowd, its themes of attaining grace and redemption inspiring palpable heartache and probably more than a few tears.

And “Nick of Time” — from the 1989 Album of the Year that provided Raitt with a late-career resurgence at the ripe old age of (checks notes) 39 (!) — was simply gorgeous Saturday, dedicated in honor of Father’s Day and with the lyrics about her parents changed poignantly to the past tense. (Raitt’s father, the Broadway star John Raitt, died in 2005.)

Through it all Raitt had some marvelous interplay with her talented band, most notably with her fellow guitarist Levine, whose more traditional rock chops combined perfectly with Raitt’s blues licks. And in one of the night’s absolute highlights, he plucked out bouncy African rhythms on Oliver Tuku Mtukudzi’s “Hear Me Lord,” a bouncy gospel song that Raitt turned into an uplifting singalong. 

Given the relatively low-key vibe of the evening, I wouldn’t have minded if Raitt had brought things up a notch at the end. Still, who could blame her for instead starting her encore with a heart-rending take on maybe her most wrenching song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” But she segued from that into the mellow “Matters of the Heart,” which in lieu of something more upbeat made for a kind of sleepy slide to the finish. (Apparently Raitt hasn’t sung the raucous “Willya Wontcha” since 1992, which is a shame.)

Regardless, the R&B chug of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” to close the show provided a suitably honky-tonk finish to a stellar night in Boston for a legendary blueswoman — and proved that she’s nowhere near done. 

The show opened with a super-engaging set by the James Hunter Six, “also known as who the hell is that?” joked the group’s affable British frontman. But if you’re unfamiliar with their horn-driven, noir rockabilly stomp and old-fashioned R&B and soul, you should get to know them — they were a treat. 

Setlist for Bonnie Raitt at MGM Music Hall at Fenway, June 15, 2024:

  • I Sho Do
  • God Was in the Water
  • Made Up Mind
  • Love So Strong
  • Blame it on Me
  • Hear Me Lord
  • Million Miles
  • Just Like That
  • Something to Talk About
  • Use to Rule the World
  • Nick of Time
  • Angel from Montgomery
  • Living for the Ones
  • Steal Your Heart Away

ENCORE:

  • I Can’t Make You Love Me
  • Matters of the Heart
  • Never Make Your Move Too Soon





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