Mann Oh Mann: Richard Thompson And Bonnie Raitt In Concert

Philadelphia’s Mann Center For The Performing Arts is a great outdoor concert venue that can be a bitch getting to and leaving from, depending on where you live and what mode of transport you opt to use. The Mann, built into a hilly section of enormous public parklands, is decently accessible for those who reside not too far from it and who visit using foot power or public transit. Not so for just about everyone else. That’s because just about everyone else drives. For them, the traffic jams they usually run into and the post-concert nightmare of trying to exit the parking areas at the same time as thousands of their fellow citizens . . . oy frigging vey, to say the least. In the early 1990s, an incredibly awful Mann traffic experience sent my now-wife Sandy’s and my blood pressures to Guinness World Records levels. And, amid the type of shouting matches in the car that would have made us stars on The Jerry Springer Show, nearly caused us to divorce one another, even though we weren’t even married yet! Shell-shocked, we stayed away from The Mann for eons after that memorable night. Until a week and a half ago, that is, when we learned about a pleasant method of Manning-it, and took in a terrific show.

In Philly, we boarded the bus at 12th and Market Streets.
In Philly, we boarded the bus at 12th and Market Streets.

The concert-in-question’s headliner was Bonnie Raitt. The opening act was Richard Thompson. Double bills as strong as this one are not everyday events. Sandy and I were there with our great pals Cindy and Gene. The two couples ended up sitting in different sections of The Mann, but arrived at the scene in the same vehicle. Turns out that SEPTA, the Philadelphia region’s transit authority, runs a dedicated bus on Mann concert nights. Sandy and I never knew about this till Cindy clued us in. And thus we took a train from our home in the burbs to central Philadelphia and hopped on the special bus soon after arriving in the city. Several stops later, Cindy and Gene, Philadelphia residents, hopped aboard too. Mannward we headed. Calmly.

Raitt and Thompson are pushing 70 and, judging from the crowd at The Mann, don’t exactly have a huge fan base among Generations X and Y. Despite this, they can sell plenty of tickets. Between them they stimulated about 6,000 bodies to lay down dough for seats the other night. As opening acts are prone to do, Richard played first. I’ll come back to him soon, but have decided to say a few things now about Bonnie Raitt.

IMG_1540For two hours Bonnie was on stage with her backing band of four (drummer, electric bassist, keyboardist and electric guitarist/mandolin player), a well-oiled and flexible machine. She was wonderful. Bonnie’s music goes down easy and brings together currents of the blues, singer-songwriter, rock, gospel and folk music streams. She is famed for her electric slide guitar work, but to me, to tell you the truth, she seemed not a guitar slinger. And she didn’t emphasize her songwriting efforts. Though she has written or co-written a decent number of songs during  her 48-or-so-year career, she hauled out only two of them (What You’re Doin’ To Me and The Comin’ Round Is Going Through, both from her new album Dig In Deep ) for her 20-song set. What she had going for her, more than anything, was her voice. Warm and natural, Bonnie’s pipes drew the crowd into each song’s lyrics. And, without strain, she belted out whatever needed to be belted out whenever the occasion arose. I held on tight when I knew that high and powerful notes were a-comin’, expecting to be swept up into the clouds. And that’s what happened. Her voice may have burnished oh so slightly since her younger days, but basically Bonnie sings as well as she ever has. Which is saying something.

Take John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery, for instance. This song about a beat-down elderly woman began with only Bonnie and her acoustic guitar. She sang majestically, probing Prine’s chilling narrative. Halfway through the tune the rest of the group entered. Ricky Fataar’s cymbal and high-hat work was simple and quiet and appropriate. George Marinelli’s mandolin solo was sweet. Goosebumps, I think, swelled throughout The Mann, whose audience jumped into a standing O, the evening’s second, at Angel’s end. You will find a recent live version of the song by clicking here.

I have a feeling that most people have heard of Bonnie Raitt, and that far, far fewer know about Richard Thompson, though his abilities are extraordinary and his career long (he was a founder of the British folk-rock band Fairport Convention in 1967). Me, I believe that RT is one of the greatest musical talents among us. What a singer. What a songwriter. What a guitar player. In a fair and just world he’d be a megastar. Poor guy, he has to settle for truckloads of praise instead of ocean liner loads, and for making a really nice living instead of raking in countless millions. Life’s tough.

This is probably the worst photo ever of Richard Thompson, who is on the left.
This is probably the worst photo ever of Richard Thompson, who is on the left. Mea culpa.

Well, if I ran The Mann, BR would have opened for RT, not the other way around. Forty-five minutes of him and his band (Taras Prodaniuk on electric bass, Michael Jerome on drums) weren’t enough. Sandy and I have seen Richard in performance a number of times, and he hasn’t lost a beat. His steely, deep voice cut like a knife at The Mann. His electric guitar playing snarled, jabbed and tunneled into realms so dense he left me in disbelief. During some RT solos, Sandy said she thought I was going to give myself whiplash, what with my head pivoting and swiveling so much. Such as on his piercing song If Love Whispers Your Name, during which he went atomic on his guitar (click here for a version of this tune from three years ago, and note that RT’s long, amazing guitar solo begins at about the 3:20 mark).

Back to Bonnie. She is more than a Richard Thompson supporter. She said to the audience that he is one of her heroes, and brought him onstage in the middle of her set for two songs. In case you were wondering, the guy has a delicate side that adroitly examines life’s heartbreaks and mysteries in some of his quieter compositions, such as 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and Dimming Of The Day. To be sure, Dimming Of The Day is a remarkable creation. When in the correct hands it will stun you. Which is what occurred when Bonnie and Richard, each working an acoustic guitar, intertwined their voices in a heavenly manner and, totally deservedly, received the evening’s first standing O when Dimming’s final notes slipped into the air. A beautiful version, from some years ago, of Bonnie and Richard performing Dimming Of The Day exists on YouTube. By clicking here you will see what I mean.

(Don’t be shy about adding your thoughts, or about sharing this article with others)

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38 thoughts on “Mann Oh Mann: Richard Thompson And Bonnie Raitt In Concert

  1. Rick Williams PGA September 6, 2016 / 6:15 am

    Great review, and I’m actually headed down to the Mann next Friday with a number of families/kids to see the Lumineers. Don’t know much about them, but should be a nice early fall show.

    Saw RT open for Wilco in June at the Mann. RT is pretty amazing, but he played solo at the Wilco gig – a bit lost in translation by himself up there. Cool he had his band for the Raitt opening spot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 12:03 pm

      Yeah, Richard alone on stage in a huge place isn’t the best setting for him. I once saw him solo at World Café Live — as you know, that place is pretty small, so he came across great there.

      Liked by 1 person

        • yeahanotherblogger September 10, 2016 / 7:37 am

          That’s a good place. I don’t go as often as I should. I was there once last year and once this year, both times to see Willie Nile.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Rick Williams PGA September 10, 2016 / 9:50 pm

            It’s been a number of years for me – Luka Bloom. Cool little, intimate place, always remember taking notice of waitstaff traffic!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce September 6, 2016 / 8:17 am

    Wow what a great concert ! Brings back memories of driving there in the 70’s about twice a week to hear the Philadelphia orchestra .

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 12:01 pm

      Right, the Philadelphia Orchestra used to play there much more often than they now do.

      Like

  3. Cindy September 6, 2016 / 1:32 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out! That was a fantastic concert, and a great review. Loved all your puns, Mann!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thefoodandwinehedonist September 6, 2016 / 2:38 pm

    Awesome post. Angel from Montgomery is easily my fave Raitt song. I saw her ages ago but would like to again.

    Thompson is one of the greatest guitarists and songwriters of all time and I agree – I would’ve had him headline. The first couple times I saw him were solo acoustic shows and I was in awe at how he made it sound like there were two or three guitarists up there.

    I remember she did a cover of “when the spell is broken” on a RT tribute album a whole back. Did either of them play it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 3:58 pm

      No, neither played that one. It’s a great song. I wish that Thompson’s set had been longer. He did only eight songs. And he joined Bonnie during her set on two songs.

      Like

  5. everythingsundry September 6, 2016 / 4:08 pm

    Thanks for the review. My cousin attended the one in Boston and I know for a fact that she has no clue who Richard Thompson is. She only goes to those very pricey shows at big venues and doesn’t understand the wealth of talent that plays in small venues to much smaller and intimate audiences. I feel badly for people who only know how to experience really really BIG SHEW! (doing my Ed Sullivan imitation here…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 5:22 pm

      I totally agree with you. There are so many excellent musicians out there, and most of them play small venues. And all the big stars played in small places at one time. I’ve seen Springsteen, U2 and Mellencamp, for example, in small rooms.

      Like

  6. Cynthia Raff September 6, 2016 / 4:41 pm

    Thanks for the tip on the Mann bus. We used to go to lots ofMann concerts when the Philadelphia Orchestra appeared more frequently. But lots of things have changed about the Mann experience, including price and access. Not loving it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 5:24 pm

      Yup, the Mann bus is a really good thing. My wife and I are glad to have found out about it.

      Like

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 5:29 pm

      Your article is terrific. Thompson is a guy worth catching whenever the opportunity presents itself. He’s one of the greats.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Still the Lucky Few September 6, 2016 / 7:08 pm

    Just saw a Bonnie Raitt television performance last week. She is still fabulous, after all these years. I agree, it’s’ her vocals that are superb, guitar strong, but not her star feature. I have always loved her music!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 6, 2016 / 9:00 pm

      She has loads of fans, deservedly. And she was very gracious on the night I saw her — she thanked the audience a number of times for supporting her for all these years.

      Like

  8. greenpete58 September 7, 2016 / 10:27 pm

    Great review. I agree, the more “intimate” shows with seasoned singers, songwriters, and musicians are far more preferable than the high-priced stadium-style shows. Bonnie Raitt is a treasure, and Richard Thompson is a songwriting and guitar legend. I saw him at a small show in the ’90s, with Dave Pegg on bass and (I think) Dave Mattacks on drums (both of Fairport). What a fabulous band that was.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 8, 2016 / 7:31 am

      Another good thing about RT is that many of his fans have chances to see him pretty regularly — that’s because he seems to love to tour. He’s on the road a lot!

      Like

  9. andrewcferguson September 8, 2016 / 3:13 am

    PS I’ve linked your review into the Richard Thompson page on Facebook, which should generate a bit more traffic for you. When I put my own review up there, it produced the biggest spike on my blog ever (and some very nice comments): these guys are hardcore!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 8, 2016 / 7:40 am

      Hey man — thanks a lot. Really good of you to do this. I don’t have any social media accounts, so I can’t do this kind of thing myself. I probably should join the modern world and do Facebook, but I’ve been reluctant. One of these days, though . . .

      Like

      • andrewcferguson September 8, 2016 / 1:35 pm

        No problem squire. We middle-aged musos have to stick together! I see from the group there’s a few likes on it, so it should have produced a few extra views for you. I’ve come to the conclusion that RT fans are among the nicest people!

        Facebook can be annoying, but it is a great way of staying in touch – and networking, if you’re in a band or such. I do Tweet, but can’t really feel the love. Whatever you do, keep blogging!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ray Laskowitz September 9, 2016 / 10:23 pm

    It’s Bonnie’s – she’s 66 — tour. The venue has nothing to do with who opens. 🙂 These days, I doubt the opening musician only plays more than a couple of shows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 9, 2016 / 10:55 pm

      Hi Ray. Yes, what you say is true. I was just fantasizing.

      Bonnie is terrific. And Richard, to me anyway, is even more terrific. I place him up there with the very greats.

      Like

    • yeahanotherblogger September 10, 2016 / 1:07 pm

      A great show. I was able to get tickets at the last minute via StubHub, a website I’d never used before. And the seats were very good. And the audio people had the sound adjusted properly. The sound was clear, you could understand the lyrics, etc. — all of this isn’t always the case, especially at good-sized venues.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. cincinnatibabyhead September 11, 2016 / 6:54 pm

    That’s a pretty good double bill. Anybody that does justice to a John Prine number is ok in my book. Bonnie nails it. Richard is just a great talent. Consistent over the years. Wish I was there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 12, 2016 / 3:06 pm

      You’d have had a great time at this show.
      She’s still on tour. Maybe she’ll be coming to your area.

      Like

  12. Aunt Beulah September 12, 2016 / 2:52 pm

    Sounds like a great concept, Neil. As always, I appreciate your ability to bring your readers along with you to experience what you experienced. The link to the soundtrack really helped me to understand your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. artdoesmatter September 12, 2016 / 3:48 pm

    Neil, I enjoying reading this immensely! I saw Richard Thompson many years back at the Philadelphia Folk Festival – have you and your wife ever been to one? It was a sectioned-off tiny stage and he was “in his element” so to speak of adoring fans. I began enjoying his music when he was still gigging with his wife Linda Thompson. Do you remember their duo album, “Shoot Out the Lights”? That album changed my appreciation of that genre of music in all the great ways possible.

    I grew up liking Bonnie Raitt’s music also, but agree that RT is somewhat spectacular as soon as he picks up his guitar. I love some of your readers’ comments above – as I spent hundreds of past summers as a young high-schooler, attending Phila. Orchestra concerts at the Mann with my father. Those exiting traffic jams were horrendous and are precisely as you described!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 12, 2016 / 7:12 pm

      Hi Patricia. I’ve been a fan of RT for years. Can’t remember when I first got into him. I’ve seen him at the Phila Folk Fest (he was on the main stage) and at several other venues.
      I’ll tell you — using the SEPTA bus for the Raitt/Thompson concert saved my wife and me tons of aggravation. I’m glad that my car wasn’t in the oceans of cars in the Mann parking areas that night.

      Liked by 1 person

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