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Darling Harbour Theatre, April 7

If it is to be goodbye - and rumour has it that Mavis Staples, 84 in July, may soon call an end to a 73-year road career, while the mere stripling 73-year-old Bonnie Raitt may be approaching the last decade or two of her touring life - then it’s well it be done like this.

Staples may have a huskier voice than in her glory days but it still commands when she decrees that “we’ve got to get it together” in what is a properly happy clappy lesson. It still reaches from her tiny feet to resonate with every fibre as she sings that she is “just another soldier in the army of love”. And it still slides-with-a-growl in Slippery People, a secular song given some churchifying.

And when the choogling blues of Handwriting On The Wall got going she was almost shirtfronting Old King Belshazazar who wouldn’t believe.Daniel. So even though the three other singers on stage took the leads in Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha Na Boom Boom) she brought the grit, more than justifying the standing ovation accompanying her (final?) departure.

As for her tourmate, there’s been another Grammy this year for Raitt, an award like her breakthrough in 1991 that was a surprise to everyone except those paying attention to her off-trend but on-point body of work. Songs from the period between the two albums which spawned the big Grammy wins – Nick Of Time and Just Like That – dominated this show.

Even if it meant the lightweight reggae lope, Have A Heart, got a spot, the set choice makes sense I guess, not least because it offers us the second Talking Heads song of the night (Burning Down The House, now a swaggering blues). Though it is a disappointment for those of us who know and love her – in many ways superior, if you like her a bit dirtier – ‘70s albums.

Still, even in borrowed boots (not a metaphor, she thought she’d left hers in Melbourne), Raitt walked over potential objections, with sardonic swing in Used To Rule The World, a fluid groove mixing two continents in Back Around, and the smoky Blame It On Me, an early confirmation that her slide tone is still rich and her technique still sharp.

The one pre-Grammy years inclusion, John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery – a song that wears its heaviness like its genius, lightly, and it’s age not at all, so no wonder it has been a staple of her shows for five decades - was matched by the new Grammy winner, her own Just Like That, a subtle heartbreaker of a story Prine would have been proud to own.

But almost as effective were the full rocking Living For The Ones Who Didn’t Make It (her slide work again a joy), the tender and unfussy I Can’t Make You Love Me, and her now familiar tug on INXS’ Need You Tonight, making a song that didn’t lack for sexiness feel more grown up but no less salacious.

Satisfaction from the Easter Bonnie? Yeah, it was a pretty good Friday.

A version of this review was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.


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