"It's a long way from Trancas, right here," said Bonnie Raitt, opening a three-night stand Wednesday at the Universal Amphitheatre.
She was referring not just to the geographical distance from the tiny Malibu nightclub where she was resigned to squeezing 'em in with a shoehorn not all that long ago on the downside of her career.
That was pre-comeback, pre-Grammys, pre-"Nick of Time," of course. A veteran singer and guitarist with a good character, a smart mouth, a sexy walk, nimble fingers and a dignified, self-respecting attitude, Raitt is too little the Cinderella-complex type to allow for any fairy tale analogies. ("I can find my own diamond ring!" she playfully barked at a wayward suitor in "Real Man.")
The transition from outdated '70s blues-rock mama to essential '90s balladeer seemed complete, not least of all because Raitt has held firmly onto her blues roots, but without staying in that place of arrested development that is sometimes part and parcel with maintaining a blues attitude .
She still growls out a fine "Sugar Mama" and "Give It Up or Let Me Go"--and you can trace an obvious line from the cocky defiance of those blues numbers to the quiet assurance of her ballads.
It's hard to say whether Raitt's stage presence is enabled more by her fine slide guitar playing or her good humor and strong rapport. In any case, she went out of her way to credit almost all the songwriters responsible for the evening's material, from mentor Mississippi Fred McDowell to herself. ("Here's one of my tunes, since I qualify as an old blues woman now," she quipped during the "back porch" segment.)
And perhaps most admirable and endearing was the moment in which she marveled at how far she'd come with her career, and then went on to emphatically reinforce that however happy she was about her comeback, it was not the factor behind her personal recovery and happiness, which predated the chart and award success. In other words, when it comes to the fickle pop audience, she's co-dependent no more.
The complete review will appear in Friday's Calendar.