Typical. You wait ages for a sassy redhead to strut her stuff in town, then two show up at once. But a discerning audience eschewed the attractions of Rihanna at the Arena to celebrate the, shall we say a tad more mature, virtues of Bonnie Raitt and her seasoned band at the Apollo.

Before we rave about Ms Raitt, though, let’s tarry a moment and sing the praises of her support act, the great Martin Simpson. If there’s an English guitarist, singer and songwriter anywhere near as good as Simpson working in the folk tradition at the moment, then they can only be called Richard Thompson. Simpson’s blend of the traditional ballad with the sweatier guitar-sliding he learned during his years in America’s Deep South is a unique pleasure. His delivery is confident but unforced, honed by years of diligence on the folk circuit before his current headline status, while his guitar playing – well, when Raitt, no mean guitarist herself, came on stage she observed that she felt as if she had “sausage fingers” by comparison.

It’s been a while since I’d seen Bonnie live, not least because she’d taken a couple of years off to get over some tragedies in her personal life. But if her new album Slipstream is a great return to form, then her current live show is nothing less than a triumph.

Inevitably, there was a good showing of material from Slipstream but all of it welcome and the majority of it impressively beefed up for the live experience. Long-time guitarist George Marinelli in particular seemed to have been boning up on his Keef-isms – clothes-wise as well, which, it should be said, is not necessarily a look most middle-aged musos can pull off. But, hey, this wasn’t only rock ’n’roll.

Raitt’s roots are very much in the blues and folk traditions, with generous helpings from her early output in this apparently free-wheeling, multiple choice set, including Chris Smithers’ sultry Love Me Like A Man; the inevitable, but elegantly reworked Angel From Montgomery; and, more surprisingly, Love Has No Pride. As heartbreaking songs go, though, even that epically lovelorn Eric Kaz/Libby Titus tune has to defer to I Can’t Make You Love Me. With all respect to its recent revival by Adele, Bonnie’s version remains definitively the saddest song this side of ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All (I’m not kidding! Just listen to those lyrics!). It would have been show-stopping had she not wisely held it over until the encore, followed by an intimate version of Nick Of Time closer, she suggested, to her original concept of the song than the recorded title track of her best selling album.

Earlier in her career, Bonnie used to do a version of Sippie Wallace’s straight-talking blues Woman Be Wise and unapologetically looked up to mentors like Sippie, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. They’re all, sadly, gone, but Raitt’s quite the role model herself these days, revelling in her own experience as an older and wiser woman. On the evidence of this impressively feisty show – even complete with wardrobe malfunctions – she should still be kicking the collective ass of some of the less-dedicated young ‘uns for a good while yet.

Review by Kevin Bourke


What: Bonnie Raitt and Martin Simpson 

When: June 13, 2013

More info: Bonnie Raitt also plays at the Liverpool Empire on June 22, 2013, supported by Foy Vance. Contact http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/bonnie-raitt/liverpool-empire/