By Chris M. Junior
Engaging in occasional acts of “surprise the band,” to use Bonnie Raitt’s exact words, actually keeps everyone at a concert on their toes.
At the top of the list would have to be the more casual fans who attended her Aug. 13 show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. But in the end, Raitt’s musical journey on this unbearably hot night typified what she’s done throughout her career, before and after her hit-making, Grammy-winning heyday of 1989-94: taking a great song (sometimes from an unexpected source), putting it through her tasteful blues-rock-folk filter and emerging with a rendition that’s both palatable and personal.
Following an opening set by Richard Thompson (who saved his best for last, filling “Tear-Stained Letter” with long, sparkling lead guitar breaks), Raitt hit the stage promising “something from the female point of view.” And with that, she and her band began with her steady-rollin’ cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight,” which Raitt recorded for her latest album, “Dig in Deep,” released in February. It was the first of many points in the show when Raitt’s instantly identifiable and sensual slide-guitar playing made its presence felt. Other “Dig in Deep” songs in the set included “Unintended Consequence of Love” (only the second time Raitt has performed it in concert) and “Gypsy in Me” (she called it out to the band on microphone in a way that suggested it was an in-the-moment addition to the set list or shuffled around from its original spot).
Raitt’s honesty and down-to-earth nature went over just as well as the music. She reached back to her third album, 1973’s “Takin My Time,” for “I Feel the Same,” and afterward prompted a few laughs from the crowd when she said, “Sorry, guys. I ended it too soon.” Before her version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” she put on some lipstick.
Other highlights included her highest-charting pop hit, “Something to Talk About,” the Talking Heads signature “Burning Down the House” as well as a stirring version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” one of her encores.
Raitt’s next show with Thompson is Aug. 15 in Westbury, N.Y., and their tour will conclude Sept. 23 in Paso Robles, Calif. She'll continue touring the U.S. with other openers into early November.