I had high expectations for the Bonnie Raitt-Keb’ Mo’ “Souls Alike Tour” show last night at Robinson Center, and they were exceeded by a spectacular performance from both artists, who displayed both their wonderful pipes as well as their exquisite finger-work on their variety guitars. I left feeling as good about a show as any I’ve seen.
Keb’ Mo’ was so good in his 10-song set with his six-piece band and summoning up the blues vibe of the long-gone Delta greats that, after an sit-down, one-song encore with Bonnie and a 20-minute intermission, it took a few songs to get into Bonnie’s set. But she started rocking about five songs in on Kim Wilson’s “I Believe I’m in Love With You,” and it just grew from there.
Raitt has a way of pulling you in with such cool, mellow, bluesy stuff like “Nick of Time,” the one song in which she abandoned her guitars for a Roland keyboard with her traveling keyboardist, Jon Cleary from New Orleans. She tugged at everyone’s heartstrings with an encore opening “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” but while Cleary was pretty much flawless and fun in a New Orleans funk way on the keys, he nearly butchered up his attempt at free-forming the Bruce Hornsby-style accompaniment on that number.
Their encore also included a birthday cake to Keb Mo, whom Bonnie regularly referred to by his given name of “Kevin” (Moore), and with both bands on stage they offered up funk with “Writing You a Love Letter,” some Wilson Pickett (“354-5789”) and the soulful “Angel from Montgomery.” Thank God they played “Angel”; some woman screamed for it behind us so much, we were thinking she might storm the stage if Bonnie didn’t include it.
Keb’ Mo’ remembered his last and only visit to Little Rock, a 1994 stop in Juanita’s (Jack Hill of the Democrat-Gazette, sitting a few seats down from us, said he couldn’t remember if Moore opened for the Subdudes or vice-versa — wish we had been club-aware enough then to have caught that show). Much of his set came from his outstanding new record, “Suitcase,” “Including “Remain Silent,” “Rita,” “The Itch” and “Whole ‘Nutha Thang.” I couldn’t help thinking how “Rita” would be a perfect song matching Keb’ Mo’ with James Taylor. “Remain Silent” sounded, in lyrics and in the instrumentation, like a song Bonnie Raitt would record.
Bonnie, meanwhile, also reflected on her visits, noting that seemed like a while since she’d played here (it was with Lyle Lovett four years ago at the amphitheater). She also noted most of the tour shows had been outside, and how nice it was to play in such an intimate theater like Robinson, which appeared close to full. No doubt these artists deserved such a turnout, and the appreciative audience, which gave standing ovations to both performers BEFORE their sets, got a deserved, superb show as well. Raitt’s banter with the audience brought everyone, from the farthest-away seat in the balcony, into the show. She talked up Scottish singer-songwriter K.T. Tunstall, kidded around with her sound man, and made light of living with freckles as well as writing “Nick of Time” when she worried about turning 40, only to find out now, 15-16 years later, “what was I thinking?”
“You’re already standing up, so I better be good,” a seemingly surprised Raitt quipped before kicking off her set. She, as well as Keb’ Mo’, was better than good this night. — Jim Harris