Bonnie Raitt turns up the energy level at Merriweather show MUSIC REVIEW

August 19, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

At first glance, Saturday night's lineup at the Merriweather Post Pavilion probably looked like some sort of rock and roll revival show. At one end of the bill was Chris Isaak, whose gold-lame suit and Elvis Presley pompadour seem straight out of the '50s; at the other was Bonnie Raitt, a singer and slide guitarist whose roots remain firmly grounded in pre-rock blues and R&B.

Yet for all their traditionalist trappings, Raitt and Isaak are thoroughly modern rockers, something Saturday's show made eminently obvious.

Isaak for instance, may dress the part of a rockabilly icon, but he refuses to play like a purist, and that keeps his music from succumbing to cliche. Isaak and his Silvertones basically do only two songs -- a slow one and a fast one -- but do both well enough that it's hard to hold that limitation against them. For one thing, Isaak's slow songs are like no other; with their slow, brooding pulse, eerie, atmospheric guitar and haunting, mournful vocals, tunes like "Wicked Game" or "Heart Shaped World" convey a sense of heartbreak with uncanny accuracy.

Still, as much as fans cheered "Wicked Game,"' what really got them going was when Isaak brought out sax maniac Johnny Reno, and led his band through a series of up-tempo ravers like Do Diddley's "Diddley Daddy." Mood may sell records, but it's the big beat that moves a crowd.

Just ask Bonnie Raitt. Although the basic form of Saturday's show is similar to the set she offered last year -- the only real change is that she's dropped the acoustic blues and upped the number of new songs -- the energy level was almost double, thanks in large part to the efforts of her new band.

Powered by the seemingly untoppable team of bassist Hutch Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar, the group dug deep into each groove, from the good-natured New Orleans rhythms of "Sugar Mama" to the frankly funky "Good Man, Good Woman." Even such relatively low-key material as "Luck of the Draw" or her cover of Mabel John's "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)" seemed to build from the beat up.

Even better, the more her rhythm section pushed, the brighter Raitt's singing seemed to get. Raitt differs from Isaak in that her approach worked as well with rockers as with ballads, and she drew as much fromthe drive Fataar's fatback lent the upbeat "Love Letter" as she did from the quietly prodding bass line Hutchinson placed behind the regretful "I Can't Make You Love Me." No wonder the capacity crowd kept demanding encores; if not for the noise curfew, it'd probably still be there.

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