Tom Strini

Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples rock Uihlein Hall

Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples and their bands shoot out the lights; Paul Cebar a surprise guest.

By - Aug 23rd, 2012 01:48 am

Bonnie Raitt, at Edmonton on Aug. 12. Ricky Fataar photo courtesy of Raitt’s website.

Near the end of her rousing opening set Wednesday evening, Mavis Staples called out headliner Bonnie Raitt to join her in Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

They should sing together more often. Their voices complement each another perfectly. Raitt sings in sinuous lines with an edge to the tone, and even when she’s rocking hard retains a certain cool reserve. She makes you come to her. Staples shows the effort in her singing, and shows it proudly. She’s volcanic, under pressure, and she puts pressure on the music. Staples is up in your face. She sings like a prize fighter, in jabs, feints and haymakers, and she never missed Wednesday.

Staples and her guitarist, bassist, drummer and three singers found deep grooves in every song, though they varied greatly in sentiment and tempo, from Gospel to inspirational to 1970s funk. Every beat fell thick as a brick in The Weight, in a performance for the ages. Staples parried that beat by parsing it like a deft pugilist, ducking, weaving and countering in enormously powerful yet subtle divisions of the beat.


Mavis Staples and Bonnie Raitt on Austin City Limits. Photo courtesy of Raitt’s website.

Raitt, like Staples, possesses acute rhythmic awareness. But again, she sings in a more linear way. She sounds the way she looks and moves — slender, supple, focused, graceful, sexy — but not kittenish or flirtatious. In her singing and in her demeanor, she’s a smart woman who’s survived the hard knocks with poise and dignity intact. She knows just who she is, and what’s more attractive than that?

The assorted guitars on Raitt’s hip throughout the evening were not decorations. Raitt played creative bottleneck solos in almost every number and traded licks man to man with monster guitarist George Marinelli all night long. Raitt’s band comprises Marinelli, bassist James Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar and keyboardist/vocalist Mike Finnigan. They laid down grooves almost as deep as those of Staples’ band, but were more varied and surprising. I admired the way they drifted now and then away from the drive of funk into regions of spiraling jazz, even to the point of extending the chords with major sevenths and ninths to just put us in a different place for a little while.

Raitt ventures into jazz, rock, country, funk and boogie, but they’re all hybrids. She never strays far from the blues. She let Finnigan take the lead vocally and on the Hammond organ in I Got News for You, an extravagant, glamorous, big-city blues rave-up that brought down the house (which, the way, was packed on a Wednesday night).

The blues suit Raitt and her image, of a woman worldly wise but not world weary, an artist who remains sexy, energized and at the top of her game at 62. When she tears your heart out, as with I Can’t Make You Love Me, it’s not because you feel sorry for the persona of the song, but because you admire her perseverance, her strength, her control of the strong emotions. That’s a beautiful thing, and that as much as her musicianship accounts for the intensity of her following.

Wednesday, the audience cheered and cheered, and Raitt followed a generous set with four encores. She surprised us by inviting Milwaukee favorite and old Raitt friend Paul Cebar to sit in — and fit right in — for the last one.

Peter Jest, proprietor of Shank Hall, produced this concert, held at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall.



2 thoughts on “Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples rock Uihlein Hall”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This was an amazing concert!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It was fabulous, she is so graceous with her people and Paul was such a plus. It was great to see her take him with her off stag like lets hang out. It was just that cool like when she played with Keb Mo.

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