Live review: Bonnie Raitt + Gareth Dunlop, London Palladium – 3rd June 2023

Credit: John Edwards

Taking my seat at this beautiful old venue, I gazed across the stalls to a familiar sea of grey hair, white hair or no hair left at all. That’s par for the course with “legacy artists” in this genre and (full disclosure) my own hair and beard are grey and my bald patch lights up in the sun. But then I noticed that almost half of this elderly crowd was female – and that’s a far-from-familiar sight at Americana gigs. Does Bonnie Raitt attract more women simply because she’s a woman herself? Well… maybe. But you don’t see the same balance of sexes at, say, a Lucinda Williams gig. I think it’s more to do with how Bonnie presents herself on stage: the way she talks to her audience with warmth, charm and confidence.

Here’s a case history. When I went to see her ten years ago a pal had to drop out at the last moment so I took my 78-year-old mother to Newcastle City Hall instead. She had never heard of Bonnie Raitt and thought it was all a bit too loud. But when asked if she’d enjoyed the show, she told me:  “Oh yes – I loved it. She was so nice.”

Now 73 and as nice as ever, blues veteran Bonnie confessed at the Palladium that she wasjust the right kind of nervous for the gig because a lot of musicians she knew and respected were in the hall, including Albert Lee, Tommy Emmanuel and Joan Armatrading. She needn’t have worried. As a guitarist, particularly on slide, she plays her signature “Brownie” Stratocaster with almost superhuman precision and makes it look effortless. As a singer, she has a wonderfully heartfelt edge to her voice. And though she often covers other people’s songs, when she writes them herself they can take on the world. Earlier this year she snatched the Song of the Year Grammy award from rivals including Beyonce, Adele, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. This prompted the Daily Mail headline “Unknown blues singer beats Beyonce.” Yes, a lot of unknowns have won 13 Grammys.

Bonnie played that song – the title track from her 2022 album ‘Just Like That’ – midway through her 90-minute set, explaining how she’d been inspired by the story of a mother laying her head on a stranger’s chest to hear her dead son’s heart beating inside, and how she’d tried to channel the late John Prine’s way of getting inside someone’s head in just a few words. Prine, who fell victim to Covid in 2020, is still very much her song writing hero and she has played his sublime ballad ‘Angel From Montgomery’ at every live show since she first heard it in the early 1970s. At this show it marked the only dip into the first nine of her 18 studio albums. Everything else was cherry-picked from her post-1989 catalogue. That’s when she scored her first big commercial success with the US No.1 album ‘Nick of Time’.

The set included four tunes from ‘Just Like That’, which won best Americana album at the Grammys. Her own favourite, she revealed while introducing it, was the achingly sad ‘Blame It On Me’ which featured superb blues organ from Glenn Patscha, one of the four veteran virtuosi who make up her band. The way they ended almost every number with an unexpected flourish, often choreographed by Bonnie’s hips or hand gestures, spoke volumes about their talent and togetherness. Long-term guitar partner George Marinelli could make only a few dates on this tour, but session veteran Duke Levine – he also plays with Slaid Cleaves and Mary Chapin Carpenter – proved equally tasty on the Telecaster. One-time Beach Boy Ricky Fataar has been with Bonnie on drums since ‘Nick of Time’, and her bass man goes back even further. “Loyalty and chemistry is a good thing in this business and it’s hard to find,” she told the Palladium audience. Ladies and gentlemen – 40 years with Hutch Hutchinson on the bass.”

This really was a five-star show by one of the best artists on the planet. For me the only negative note came from pre-show placards and repeated announcements warning us not to take pictures or videos. This got a cheer from some quarters, but anything that prompts security staff to rush down the aisle and remonstrate with people is a bad thing in my book. Why not just ask politely and leave it to the audience to challenge anyone annoying their neighbours?

The show was opened by Gareth Dunlop, a Belfast-based songwriter with a long track record composing for films and TV. He played a half-hour set with guitarist and harmony vocalist Pete Wallace and told a charming story of how, as a young lad learning the guitar, he had worn out a VHS tape of a 26-year-old Bonnie Raitt playing ‘Too Long At The Fair’ on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1976. Gareth’s song ‘Traindriver’ is well worth checking out. Even if its chorus line (‘I should have been a train driver’) did prompt the distracting thought: “But you’d have been out on strike today, mate.”

About Brian Hancill 5 Articles
Semi-retired sub-editor who worked at the Mirror for many years, followed by a stint at The Spectator. Music obsessive since I heard the Beatles aged seven in 1963. Turned on to country and Americana around the turn of the millennium by Bob Harris's Radio 2 shows.
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