Under the stars and dancing palms, a thing called love rocked the Maui Arts & Cultural Center last Friday night. It was a happy, soulful sound. You hear it whenever Bonnie Raitt and her band hit the island.
Riding the crest of a recent Grammy win, her Slipstream tour brought the musical artist and her kick-ass band to Maui en route to Singapore and points Down Under. Ignoring forecasts of rain, the soft night air was as balmy as her voice.
The singer/slide-guitar wizard is always really happy to be here. References to the therapeutic benefits of jumping in the ocean - from getting your head straight to mending a broken heart - punctuated her 90-minute show. High-octane at one moment, relaxed and intimate the next, she had the capacity audience from hello, and never let up.
With her array of guitars and boogie-on dance moves, Raitt is the perfect blend of honky-tonk woman and consummate virtuoso. A sound perfectionist, she was exchanging cues with the sound men through the early part of the song list, but this didn't interfere with her playful rapport with band mates including Maui's "Hutch" Hutchinson on bass, George Marinelli on guitar, Mike Finnigan on keyboards and Ricky Fataar on drums.
Were it not for the musicians' precision, they could have been playing each song for the first time. The energy was that fresh and spontaneous; they were all right here, right now in the Maui moment.
After a soulful opening set by John Cruz, Bonnie moved seamlessly through blues, rock and ballads. She made room for greatest hits - dedicating John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" to her mom and all the moms in the audience before doing the first verse a capella - among dazzling songs from the new album.
She picks her material based on lyrics that touch her. That translates into making each song live for the audience, brand new, each time.
She gave concertgoers something to talk about the morning after, with her take on Bob Dylan's "Million Miles," or Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House," or the soulful refrain of "You Can't Fail Me Now."
While there was a roadhouse urgency to her playing, a jaded L.A. outlook in songs like "Marriage Made in Hollywood" and echoes of New Orleans throughout the set, she's also a master of torch-song heartbreak. "I Can't Make You Love Me" is a 2 a.m. closing-time lament, as sophisticated as it is revealing.
When that white streak showed up in her red mane several years ago, it brought new levels of wisdom, but didn't slow down her rocker soul, or polish her been-around-the-block-a-few-times lyrics. Here in the islands, she's a honky-tonk fire goddess, with the unflagging courage and patience of a lifelong political activist, and the idealistically pure heart of a child.
Confiding that a two-week break from touring had left her bored silly, she seemed to relish jamming with the band, and letting the audience feel like we were in on it. The sentiments were echoed by guest artist Danny O'Keefe, who duetted with her on his hit, "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues."
He dreamed he was in heaven and woke up to remember he was on Maui, O'Keefe told the crowd.
Appreciating "what God has given" on Maui is also a reminder not to mess it up, said Bonnie. Noting the political climate and a variety of environmental causes here, she quipped, "Hawaii's such an advanced state - I'm not surprised."
Part eternal rocker, part soulful chanteuse, her voice is better than ever. Leaving the audience to guess, or disbelieve her age, she long ago passed the older-and-wiser milestone . . . to become so much younger now.
Concluding with an Elvis oldie, she shared thoughts about lessons and turnarounds in her four-decade career. "Miracles do happen," she observed.
Indeed. Whenever she's around.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org