Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples Are a Double Header of Heroines
if the planet were under threat of annihilation from beyond, and we were to present our divine or interplanetary overlords with just two musical emissaries to prove humanity as a species is worth saving, bonnie raitt and mavis staples might be the pair we’d like to pick. Thankfully, with no such emergency yet in the offing, they’ve managed to come together of their own free will for a segment of Raitt’s current headlining tour that makes for a two-sided portrait of what heart, heart, and soul look like. soul and understated heroism in music.
It’s not like those kinds of superlatives turned up anywhere, except in the subtext of the Saturday night show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. it was a show where you could think about what staples meant during the civil rights movement and since, or raitt’s role as a non-uniform warrior in the early days of women fighting to get what they deserved in the rock. or you can simply enjoy the chops and grease fueling respective performances by historically significant figures who wear their cloaks as lightly as anything else they’d need to remove when entering a wet road.
“It feels like a club here,” Raitt said, putting in a few numbers in a 90-minute set on an unusually sweaty night the first week of fall. he, too, stopped later to momentarily admire the full house in the Greek, not as a verification of his own kingship, but as a sign of his ability to finally return, after quarantine, where he feels he most belongs: on a bus.
raitt’s set was packed with five songs from his latest album, “just like that…”, with the initial load of new material including three of the first four numbers, all in a musically familiar vein that probably there were many objections from an audience that knew it would come “at the last moment” more than at the last moment. she took it upon herself to map the topical resonance of some of the newer songs, featuring “livin’ for the ones” with its fuller, more extended title, “livin’ for the ones that didn’t made it,” to ensure that the themes of loss and gratitude were not lost. before it inevitably led to “angel from montgomery,” a song she said she wasn’t sure she’d be able to perform on this first tour since the death of its writer, john prine, featured a new song of her own calligraphy, title track “just like that”, like something he had tried to write along the lines of a classic prine song. “waiting for you to explode” was explained as a lyric about the devil that sits on the shoulder of those in recovery, harkening back to the days when she herself was first writing about being in recovery more than three decades ago. /p>
preparing some of the choicest classics, raitt would pause to add an acid or sentimental note, or sometimes both, as when he introduced the title track to the 1989 album “nick of time” that revived his career and swept the awards grammy. . she noted that the woman who inspired the first verse, childless at the time, was present with the adult miracle baby of hers. but she also established that at least part of the song was about her, when she quipped, “remember when we were scared to turn 40?” Recovering him from the joke, she added: “Now we are not afraid.” Bringing in mortality isn’t something Raitt shies away from, in any case: “No Business,” a John Hiatt cover (which takes the place of his more familiar “Thing Called Love” on the track list), came with not just a Shout: To Producer Don was one of those who didn’t make it, the late engineer on that particular Capitol-era album, Ed Cherney.
It’s been a while since two raitts did anything wrong, and the two iconic iterations we got of her in the Greek performance proved to be as revered as they ever have been. there’s heartthrob bonnie, waiting to say “i can’t make you love me” until she sits on a stool for the encore because there’s not much that can follow. (Anyone who harbored any doubt that she would still be in her top vocal form for her showcase ballads, in the early ’70s, probably wouldn’t have spent much time thinking about how her powerful father, John Raitt, creditably sang into the early ’70s.) 90 years old.)
and there’s slide guitar hero Bonnie, a performer who might deserve a place in the rock hall of fame if all she’d done was play someone else’s lead guitarist without even singing a part of the main voice. Raitt played more hangover-like slide during the opening number, the new “make up mind,” then dropped it for the second song, before declaring, “no more mrs. good boy, gimme that strat,” as he walked into the room. third with every intention of giving that instrument its own tracking spot from then on.his instrument was also part of an army of guitars at times, especially when he lined up in a row with george marinelli (a long time cohort who will join his band on select dates) and regular touring guitarist Duke Levine on “Livin’ for the Ones,” which co-writer Marinelli appears to have originally designed as a pure-stones workout before Raitt added his soulful lyrics.
raitt has been mixing up the set lists a bit on this tour (which, as you noted, is just getting started and runs through 2023). Just like the staples: On any given night, there’s at least a slim chance that he’ll do a “slippery people” version out of the speakers and Raitt will end his performance with “burn down the house.” none of those heads songs appeared on saturday, and the headliner preferred to end the pre-encore section with a mix of chaka khan and rufus’s “you got the love” and their own “love sneakin’ up on you.”
with 50 years of touring under her belt, there’s not much about raitt that counts as a sneak attack right now, but the Greek’s sale status speaks to how she’s one of the most reliable artists we’ve met in that moment. half a century, and perhaps the most we can count on to make sure that (to quote another interpreted classic) “we have heart.”
raitt didn’t inject much politics into his set, beyond pointing out the presence of a ukrainian flag hanging in front of ricky fataar’s drum (“they’re going to need a lot more of our help,” he said, predicting what’s ahead a more intense refugee crisis”). With headcounts in place to register voters, it may not take much effort to know where the singer stands on certain key issues. Staples had already cited her fair share of current events in her opening presentation, however, as in “this is my country,” she added a spoken word segment that began with “I’m not too proud right now…” what is staples enthusiastic? the supreme court reversing women’s rights, politicians playing games with immigrants for publicity (“they have babies!”), and limitations placed on voter choice in minority areas. in the lobby, “mavis for president” buttons were for sale on the merch stand, though sadly there’s still no sign of a basic package.
Aside from that fleeting acknowledgment that, yes, everything is going to hell, Staples’ set was a 50-minute joyous noise, steeped in the secular gospel that propelled the family’s career in the ’60s and has since extended to solo. renaissance that began in earnest for her in the mid 2000s. her material with and without the family veered from religious to social elevation, where she has remained almost entirely, and she is a great emblem of social justice as joy america has had for the last 74 years, the exact figure she puts exactly how long the staples have been “getting you there.”
but there has been one very sexy number that crept into the staple singers’ catalog of classics, “let’s do it again”, written by curtis mayfield for the sisters in 1976. (we didn’t have to look at that one because staples sometimes provided the dates herself: “Curtis Mayfield! 1976!…we’ll take you, 1971!”), she played the “let’s do it again” chutzpah for all it was worth in a fun extended call-and-response. with her gang leader, rick holmstrom, before arresting him. “Okay, I’ve had enough,” she teased, taking her seat before the grand finale. “I’m getting too old for this.” it is not to worry; “Let’s Do It A Little” is a nice change for an artist who has earned the right to run and then control her own pace. until that possibly theatrical rest stop, and again for the finish, the staples were running like the thoroughbred he still is.
“I don’t know if there are teenagers out there?” requested staples at one point. “Because adolescents go out to see what we old people are doing, and we love them, we learn from them. Are you out there, teenagers? parts of the crowd yelled back, and if that was an outright lie, perhaps it was excusable on a night so marked by blues and not-too-abstract truth.