Bonnie Raitt, with Keb’ Mo’. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Sunday, September 10
Reviewed by Matt Kettmann
Although unquestionably a powerful performer in her own right, Bonnie Raitt’s path to musical stardom is largely built on collaborations with bluesmen of the highest order. Those experiences both validated her early on and provided the experience to grow into one of the most endearing faces in modern blues. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, as she expands her own catalogue into such meaningful gems as the recent Souls Alive release, Raitt continues working with the baddest bluesmen around.
That’s referring, of course, to her current touring with Keb’ Mo’, a tall giant — not wide like most of his genre’s predecessors — in the world of contemporary blues. Keb’ sports a traditional deep, resonant voice, but sings atop a newer brand of blues music: tight, clean, and a refreshing antidote to the down ’n’ dirty Delta styles. Dressed in a lime green shirt and topped with his trademark white Panama hat, he showed the Bowl crowd as much over tunes like “Rita,” “The Itch,” and “Whole ’Nutha Thang,” all off his latest release, Suitcase. Then he introduced Cate School graduate Jeff Paris on keys, prompting Paris to launch into a harp session that invigorated the Bowl. As a rare opening-act encore, Keb returned to the stage with Bonnie Raitt for a slow tune, letting the crowd see the palpable sexual tension that the two are toying with on this tour.
Then it was time for more Bonnie, whom Keb’ referred to as a “bodacious little redhead with a shiny slide guitar.” In front of a taffeta stage set, Raitt treated the adoring sold-out Bowl audience to a litany of songs old — she started with Muddy Waters’s “I Love the Life I Live” — and new, such as the recent album’s political “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and the post-Katrina New Orleans tribute “God Was in the Water.” Keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Jon Cleary got his fair share of the spotlight too, but it was Raitt who reigned, even showing that she was at the top of her game by switching up the set list a handful of times. Raitt’s encore, which followed the “Let’s Give ’em Something to Talk About” hit she dedicated to Anne and Hale Milgrim, featured Keb’s return and the playing of Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789.” By evening’s end, everyone went home happy and full of easily quaffable blues.