Bonnie Brings the Winter

by wjw on September 25, 2009

The other night we checked out the BonTaj Roulet tour, featuring Bonnie Raitt and Taj Majal, in the relatively intimate settings of the Sandia Casino Amphitheater— 2000 people in an open-air venue, with glorious views of the mountains. Whatever else you may say about Indian casinos, they have sure built a lot of concert venues, and I see a lot more spectacular live concerts than I used to. (And Kathy pointed out that it really out to be “roulez,” but I think “roulet” is acceptable Cajun French.)

I’d last seen Taj some time in the 1980s, playing solo and opening for someone else. He was maybe 40 pounds lighter and wore a white wide-brimmed plantation hat. He did mainly Caribbean songs. I believe he played piano at some point, and startled everyone with a country ballad. I have totally forgotten the musician he was opening for.

I first saw Raitt around the same time, at a low point in her career when she could afford to travel only with a bass player, and I’ve seen her three or four times since, now in very large halls. However large the space, she still manages to achieve the same intimate connection with her audience than she did in that first, modest setting.

Both Raj and Raitt have recorded a pretty eclectic mix of stuff over the years, but I figured that when the two played together, the concert would be about the blues. Which was mostly true.

Taj opened with his Phantom Blues Band, which featured a brass section, the Texicali Horns. He was good-natured and growly-voiced, and swiveled his hips like Elvis, and basically won everyone’s affection in the first 10 seconds. He sang “Diddy Wah Diddy” and “Hey Josephine” and “EZ Rider” and a bunch of other songs I can’t at this moment recall. He still wore his white plantation hat. I can’t say much more about his set because Kathy and I kept getting chased out of one set of seats and into another by an undertrained amphitheater staff who didn’t know where the hell our seats were supposed to be. (Eventually we ended up in the seats we started in.)

Raitt came on next. As always, her blazing guitar talent was obvious. And she was in good voice, too, which she isn’t always.

Her choice of songs was, I think, a little odd. She did “Thing Called Love” and “Nick of Time,” which were big hits for her, but the other songs weren’t the big numbers, but things like “I Sho Do,” tunes I’d put on the B side of the single.

I always want her to do her songs from the 1970s, her Warner period, but we heard few of those, and more from her mainstreamed albums of the 90s. And she was just wonderful singing without accompaniment on John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.”

During Bonnie’s set it became obvious that it had become winter. A cold, freezing wind blew in, and everyone was huddling in their jackets. I’d come reasonably prepared, but the zipper on my colorful Guatamalan jacket was broken, so I had to hold it closed with one hand. The musicians were all dressed for the tropics, but they bore up under winter’s assault like troopers.

Act III featured Bonnie and Taj and their two bands on stage at once. Put two six-piece bands together, and you’ve got a Big Band, particularly if you’ve got a brass section. Hot damn! The place rocked out despite the assault of General Winter.

I finally got my 70s fix with “Wah She Go Do,” Bonnie’s cover of a sassy, wonderful song by Calypso Rose. And they did Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back,” and “She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride.” They traded licks on “Little Red Hen” and enjoyed themselves hugely with the double entendre-filled “Gnawin’ On It.”

Their chemistry and their affection for one another was palpable. How they survived on the stage with the wind blasting was beyond my comprehension. My hats are really off to them.

This is my week for music. Friday and Saturday will be spent at Globalquerque, our massively wonderful world music festival. I expect to return with an armful of CDs and wonderful sounds echoing in my head.

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