Before the first note was played Friday at the Midland, opening act Marc Cohn offered an assessment of Bonnie Raitt.
“I think she’s the greatest singer alive,” Cohn said. “She just gets better and better.”
Raitt’s headlining performance proved that Cohn’s analysis wasn’t just hyperbole. Raitt, 63, was dazzling. Her voice, slide guitar work and skill as a bandleader may never have been stronger. A capacity audience of about 2,500 attended the concert.
Raitt’s career began more than 40 years ago, but she didn’t break into the mainstream until 1989. The dramatic makeover producer Don Was gave her blues-based approach on the album “Nick of Time” led to millions of sales and the start of an impressive collection of Grammy Awards. Raitt noted that her career longevity is unusual “in a business that eats its old and its young.”
The two songs she performed from “Nick of Time” — “Thing Called Love” and “Have a Heart” — were among only a handful of selections during her one-hour-and-45-minute outing that seemed less than vital. The bluesy treatment given to the 1991 hit “Something to Talk About,” a flirtatious version of “Come On” and Raitt’s inspired slide guitar solo on a reggae-inflected cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” were among the many highlights.
Raitt complained of a “froggy throat” but belted out a remarkable array of tones, including raspy asides and pristine high notes on the jaunty blues “No Getting Over You.” Her vocals on her signature ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me” were also exquisite. Cohn returned to the stage after his impressive set for a playful duet with Raitt on Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”
Raitt’s rugged band of veterans included Mike Finnigan. In addition to working with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Taj Mahal, the accomplished musician played basketball for the University of Kansas in the 1960s. Finnigan sang lead on the raw blues “I Got News for You,” added a transportive organ solo to “Used to Rule the World” and made an eloquent jazz-based statement on a profoundly inspired interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles.”
Finnigan was one of several notables at the concert. Raitt dedicated “You Can’t Fail Me Now” to “Hilary and her dad,” an apparent reference to the Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank, who sat near the front of the theater. Raitt also noted that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, was in attendance.
Yet the biggest star in the house on Friday was a redheaded blues woman in the prime of her career.Set list
Hear Me Lord; Used to Rule the World; Right Down the Line; Something to Talk About; Million Miles; You Can’t Fail Me Now; Come to Me; No Gettin’ Over You; Marriage Made in Hollywood; Not Cause I Wanted To; Angel From Montgomery; Thing Called Love; I Got News for You; I Feel So Damn Good (I’ll Be Glad When I Get the Blues); I Can’t Make You Love Me; Have a Heart; Crazy Love; Big Hunk O’ Love.