On the last night of the Minnesota State Fair for 2016, Bonnie Raitt set two grandstand records.
She established a mark for the most appearances by a female performer — eight.
She set a new record for name-dropping of Minnesotans. She mentioned nearly every Twin Cities musician she’d crossed paths with since she recorded her first album on Enchanted Island in Lake Minnetonka in 1971. Willie Murphy, Dave Ray, Pat Hayes, Maurice Jacox, Ricky Peterson and on and on. Melanie Rosales got four shout-outs and Prince got two.
Raitt, 66, has never been more spirited, spontaneous and loving at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. She showed love for the fair (she talked rides and deep-fried stuff) and for things Minnesota-centric (from lake homes to the Cabooze bar). She even dedicated a song to her stepsiblings who were in the audience.
But more importantly, Raitt has never shown as much range and depth musically at the fair. From folk and funk to sad ballads and a Texas waltz and from Afrobeat to blues, she delivered 21 songs with consistent conviction. Her voice may have lost some sweetness and range, but it never sounded more authentic and authoritative no matter the style of song.
First and foremost, Raitt is a standout interpreter of other people’s material. She opened with her treatment of the 1987 INXS hit “Need You Tonight,” which she transformed into an unmitigated booty call, complete with a cockeyed come-hither look. She was masterful on the unrequited ballads “Undone,” written by Bonnie Bishop, the ever-poignant “Angel from Montgomery,” penned by John Prine, and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” written by Mike Reid and currently part of the repertoires of Adele and Jazmine Sullivan. But no one does it quite like Raitt.
She would start a vocal line ahead of the beat and then let her phrasing linger after the beat. Her face filled with sadness as her voice became sadder than sad. Nobody does ballads quite like Raitt.
Her other essential voice was in abundance on Monday, as well — her slide guitar. Like her singing voice, her slide has many colors. She got lowdown and dirty on the B.B. King blues “Don’t Answer the Door,” swampy and seductive on Womack and Womack’s “Good Man, Good Woman,” mournful on “Undone,” sly and sexy on “Need You Tonight” and stinging on the politicized original “The Comin’ Round Is Going Through.”
While Raitt’s voice and guitar work were expressive, she and her fine four-man band tended to rein themselves in, preferring concert efficiency to roadhouse rocking. Only on the Stones-like stomp of “The Comin’ Round,” a scorching indictment of money controlling politics, did the band truly cut loose, with George Marinelli contributing some Keith Richards-worthy slashing and snaky guitar.
Richard Thompson, a guitar hero in his own right who delivered a smokin’ opening set, joined Raitt for two numbers, including his “Dimming of the Day,” which proved that Raitt can find new depths of sadness every time she comes to town.
“There’s no way I can get through a Minnesota show without a lot of emotion,” declared Raitt, who dedicated the evening to her late brother Steve, a longtime Twin Cities sound engineer.
That’s because Raitt has a deep connection to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. “Thank you Minnesota for giving me my roots,” she told 8,479 fans before funking the place up with the encore of Rufus’ “You Got the Love.”
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719