Both of these good friends, Bonnie Raitt and Richard Thompson, have been performing for almost 50 years now, and their professionalism and immense talents were in peak form at the sold out Mann Center in Philadelphia on this steamy summer evening. What a pairing!
The Richard Thompson Trio brought the crowd to their feet in their blistering 45 minute set that provided more than convincing evidence (as if any was needed) that Thompson is one of top guitarists on this planet. Nobody plays as creatively, intensely, or even with the same style. Pushed by his stellar rhythm section (Taras Prodaniak on bass, Michael Jerome on drums), the trio was at times as freewheeling as a rollicking jazz trio. While most of set was electric and geared to recent material like “Fork in the Road” and Beatnik Walking” from Still, Thompson delighted on his acoustic for his classic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” The trio closed with a furious up-tempo rhythm on another of his well-known tunes, “Tear-Stained Letter.”
Raitt took the stage with her veteran road band, dressed similarly to her photo that graces her recent release, Dig In Deep, and proceeded to mix five cuts from the album with her classic tunes and covers. Although she is often introduced as a great guitarist – and patented slide-guitar work was on fine display throughout – it was her voice that most impressed. It’s powerful, emotional, clear and honest, with impeccable timing and phrasing. Her nuanced, slow delivery of “Angel From Montgomery” struck a chord with the appreciative audience. She’s undoubtedly done this song a thousand times, but I, for one, had never heard it like this; she wrenched every bit of emotion out of every single lyric. Even though she’s been far more successful than most who started in the blues, when she sings “to believe in this living is just a hard way to go,” it just wrings with cred.
In fact, throughout her set, she took time out to say she never takes it for granted, and thanked her fans for supporting her throughout her storied career. She began with her INXS cover from Dig In Deep, “Need You Tonight,” followed by Randall Bramblett’s “Used to Rule the World” and John Hiatt’s “No Business.” Killer versions of “All Alone with Something to Say” and Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” showcased the talents of her band, especially George Marinelli on guitar and Mike Finnigan on keyboards.
Then she brought out Richard Thompson to accompany her first on electric guitar for Paul Brady’s “Not the Only One” and then on an acoustic duet of Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” – clearly another of the set’s sublime moments. Bonnie called it one of the best songs ever written and she and Richard performed it as such. At one point, Raitt remarked that she met Richard when both played the Philly Folk Fest in 1970. The mutual respect for each other was so palpable that the audience could almost feel it.
Raitt paid homage to her blues roots with a solo acoustic version of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman.” Mike Finnigan was spotlighted on his searing B3 for his cover on B.B. King’s “Don’t Answer the Door,” unveiling some deeply soulful vocals. That was followed by her hit, “I Feel the Same” and gospel with “Hear Me Lord.” After the 17-song set, the band left to standing ovation, returning for a three song encore that featured Bonnie’s tender vocals on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the band in harmony on the Tex-Mex tune, “Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes.”
Although I found the many guitar changes and occasional mess-ups by the guitar tech somewhat distracting, this was the kind of show you expect from two iconic performers. Bonnie’s set was especially well paced and sprinkled with variety on the acoustic tunes and the Thompson pairings. The tour continues. By all means, catch this show if you can.