ROCHESTER HILLS -- The Meadow Brook Music Festival is about as barroom as The Lark. But on Wednesday night (July 12th), Bonnie Raitt treated the bucolic amphitheater like a smoky club with one of the loosest and most energetic performances she's given in many years at a large venue in these parts.
Perhaps it was the just-past-full moon or some lingering silliness from the previous evening's rain-soaked show in Lansing -- whose effects could still be heard in some gear problems and an extra bit of rasp in Raitt's voice. Whatever the reason, she and her four piece band -- plus opening act and guest Keb' Mo' -- were spirited and playful throughout the 95-minute, 17-song set, which featured a few surprises and a firm sense of place as well as the typically excellent and nuanced musicianship Raitt and company usually bring to the party.
An uptempo playlist certainly helped, opening with a Motown cover of Jr. Walker & the All-Stars' "Road Runner" and the bluesy rocker "Two Lights in the Nighttime" from Raitt's latest album, "Souls Alike," before she dedicated the slinky "God Was in the Water" to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf region. Keyboardist Jon Cleary stepped out "Unnecessarily Mercenary," which he wrote for the album, beginning a pattern that would continue throughout the show and particularly on a poignant rendition of "I Can't Make You Love Me."
Raitt peppered her performance with references to friends and longtime fans from the area -- including a shout-out to American Music Research Foundation chief Ron Harwood's sexual prowess during Sippie Wallace's "Women Be Wise" -- and pleased her stalwarts by bringing the title track from 1994's "Longing in their Hearts" back into the repertoire and by including the rarely performed "Nothing Seems to Matter" from 1972 as part of her sit-down acoustic segment.
And after Raitt joined him for the encore of his opening set, Keb' Mo' returned the favor during hers, trading guitar solos with Raitt on "Love Letter" as well as a cover of the late Wilson Pickett's "634-5789 (Soulsville USA)" and the elegiac show-closing version of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery."
Raitt has been a big-time, platinum-selling concern since the Grammy-winning phenomenon of 1989's "Nick of Time," but on Wednesday it was heartening to see how easily she can still summon the kind of spirit she had in the early days of her lengthy career.