After Bonnie Raitt sang the opening lines of a transcendent version of “Angel of Montgomery” at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Wednesday, a fan cried out “oh my God.” Her astonishment was warranted.
Raitt, 66, sounded even stronger and more vital than she did on the heralded interpretation of the John Prine song included on her 1974 album “Streetlights.” She acknowledged the wondrous achievement by telling the audience of about 2,000 that “I dug in deep for us all.”
The blues artist who briefly became an unlikely pop star with the release of her tenth album “Nick of Time” in 1989 dug deep throughout a vibrant performance that lasted almost two hours. A somewhat perfunctory reading of the hit “Something to Talk About” aside, Raitt poured herself into every moment of the exemplary outing.
She joked about her age, but Raitt’s talents as a vocalist, guitarist and bandleader may never have been greater. A hushed version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was imbued with poignant heartbreak while the low simmer of “I Feel the Same” was fueled by angry defiance.
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Following a spicy rendition of Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise” that featured insinuating contributions from the two-man horn section of the opening band the California Honeydrops, Raitt purred “that messed me up — in just the right way.” Her insinuating grunt on a sensual arrangement of the INXS hit “Need You Tonight” also reflected Raitt’s playful flirtatiousness.
Raitt’s exquisite slide guitar work acted as an extension of her voice. Her down-and-dirty solo on a version of “Don’t Answer the Door” sung by organist Mike Finnigan and her instrumental sparring with guitarist George Marinelli on “Right Down the Line” were particularly satisfying. The subtle cues she gave to her core four-piece band afforded precisely the right balance between sterile perfection and barroom brawniness.
Although she said that “I’m really glad we have something else to do” other than watch the evening’s presidential debate, Raitt sprinkled her set with commentary on the election cycle, a process she referred to as the “auction cycle.” She expressed hope that the country would find a way to “get money out of politics” in her introduction to the Zimbabwean gospel song “Help Me Lord.”
She also admired the striking interior of the venue, suggesting that the theater is an “old-school classic.” The same can be said of Raitt.
Need You Tonight; Used To Rule the World; I Knew; Undone; Right Down the Line; Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes; Women Be Wise; I Feel the Same; Hear Me Lord; Something To Talk About; The Comin’ Round is Going Through; Angel From Montgomery; Don’t Answer the Door; Unintended Consequence of Love; Gnawin’ On It; What’re You Doin’ To Me; I Can’t Make You Love Me; Thing Called Love; (I’m a) Road Runner/Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor); Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes