Revisiting musicians who have performed for decades can produce mixed results. Chops might be a bit choppy. The set list can appear drawn from years when red-, white- and blue-striped Levi's bell-bottoms were king. Just kinda iPhoning it in.
At the other end of the spectrum is a singularly uplifting affirmation in which though much is taken, much abides, as Al Tennyson would say. That there is an artist still on a forward trajectory, celebrating the journey but pushing toward new musical destinations.
Bonnie Raitt's performance Tuesday night at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis was way the latter. Her musicianship and frisky bonhomie "frisky being one of my favorite sports," she said has been demonstrated for more than 40 years.
Delightfully intact, that generosity and connection were shared with her tightly coiled band, her opening act the marvelous Mavis Staples and the audience.
In front of an artfully lit backdrop of horizontal slats in front of stony towers, Raitt praised the venue, urged the audience to appreciate the standout work of other band members and joked about menopause.
She and her band also treated the 1,800-person crowd to the better part of two hours of inspired blues, funk, gumbo and Raitt's swampy signature tunes.
A particular target of her friendly gibes was longtime guitarist George Marinelli, who turned Raitt's age 62 an hour after their set.
When Raitt wanted to start a song and Marinelli was still tuning, she said: "We all know what doddering is about." Rather than doddering, Raitt said she would stay moist from hot flashes: "It's nice being your own microclimate."
A better example of her generosity was stepping out to trade vocals with Staples on a rollicking "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Raitt was clearly having fun, with familiar tunes such as "Something to Talk About" and "Thing Called Love," then offering up a haunting version of Bob Dylan's "Million Miles," from Raitt's latest album, "Slipstream."
Also featured from "Slipstream" were its opener, "Used to Rule the World" and the album's hit, a reworking of the late Gerry Rafferty's 1978 tune, "Right Down the Line," which live was less reggae-lacious than the studio version.
In addition to Marinelli, who offers frilly counterpoint to Raitt's slide and growls sonorously when she plays acoustic guitar, Raitt is blessed with a veteran band that in the main has worked together for decades. The new guy is Mike Finnegan, who isn't exactly callow, having played with Jimi Hendrix, Etta James and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
If a complaint were to be lodged, it's a request for more snaky, scalding, sinuous slide guitar like maybe all slide, all the time. The red-haired Rock and Roll Hall of Famer can rev into swirling spirals or coax languorous lament and all kinds of wondrous stuff in between. Yes, a band is a collaboration, but slide as breathtaking as Raitt's solo on "Come to Me" needs to be heard more.
The emotional pinnacle of Raitt's set was her take on John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery," which she dedicated to her mother, Marjorie Haydock, the musical director for her father, Broadway star John Raitt. Her mom never got her due, Raitt said, and she poured that sentiment into her reading of the song.
Casting back to the much-is-taken-much-abides theme, Staples, 73, still rocks deliciously hard. After one of her signatures, "The Weight," by the Band, she exhorted the crowd to give it up for the late Levon Helm, who she said is in a better place.
From the Staple Singers' more than 50-year-old playbook came the still-fresh "Freedom Highway," written by Staples' father "Pops" in 1962 for the Selma-to-Montgomery march. She's still walking, Staples told the crowd, and it should be, too.