After numerous area solo shows in recent years, singer-songwriter John Hiatt came riding into The Egg in Albany armed with his new, somewhat unimaginatively named band – the Combo – to launch his U.S. tour on Thursday night.
And while the loose-limbed Hiatt is pretty much pegged as a roots/Americana guy these days, the Combo obviously reminded him that there was a time – pre-1987’s “Bring the Family” – when he was considered a rocker. A new wave rocker, at that.
Things started out in a fairly acoustic mode at The Egg, opening with the vintage “Drive South.” But then they slid into “Come Home to You” (from 2001’s “The Tiki Bar Is Open”), and while the instruments were still primarily acoustic and relatively low volume, it was clear from Doug Lancio‘s scorching bottleneck guitar solo that things were definitely gonna heat up.
And a couple of songs later, the band plugged in and launched into a run of tunes from Hiatt’s brand-spankin’ new album, “The Open Road,” starting with the title tune, which had a decidedly Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers flavor to it. “My Baby” – another new standout – was a flat-out blues stomper, thanks to the locked-into-the-groove rhythm section of bassist Patrick O’Hearn and longtime Hiatt drummer Kenneth Blevins.
The band took things a bit over the top with “Your Dad Did,” which sagged a bit under the overblown rock arrangement, but a rousing “Cry Love” – with Lancio shining brightly on 12-string electric mandolin – helped put things back on course.
“The Tiki Bar Is Open” shimmered. “Real Fine Love” was thick and sludgy, tinged with a heavy metal wallop. But it was “Paper Thin” (from 1988’s “Slow Turning”) that was the real highlight of the show – all hot and edgy rockin’ that sounded almost dangerous. Who knew that Hiatt still had it in him?
By blood, opening act Holly Williams is bona fide country music royalty. Her father is Hank Williams, Jr., and her grandfather was, of course, Hank Williams. Quite an albatross to carry around your neck.
But over the course of her 25-minute set, she claimed the stage as her own with first-rate songs – especially her opening volley of “Sometimes” and “Between Your Lines,” both culled from 2004 debut album, “The Ones We Never Knew” – and a genuinely heartbreaking catch in her voice.
Williams’ husband Chris Coleman joined her onstage for the second half of her brief performance on guitar and backing vocals, but other than his howling harmonica solo on “I Hold On,” he didn’t bring much to the table.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Eck’s review in The Times Union
And in The Daily Gazette, Michael Hochanadel wrote, “John Hiatt sure loves his new band: the Combo. On Thursday at The Egg, they unleashed his inner rocker. That leg-kicking, riff-blasting, falsetto-screaming, extra-loud extrovert may not have been far below the surface in half a decade of relatively quiet, introspective solo shows here, but it sure was big fun to see him kick out the jams in a full-on blast.”
SET LIST FOR JOHN HIATT & THE COMBO
Come Home to You
Crossing Muddy Waters
The Open Road
What Kind of Man
Your Dad Did
Perfectly Good Guitar
Wonder of Love
The Tiki Bar Is Open
Real Fine Love
Master of Disaster
Riding With the King
SET LIST FOR HOLLY WILLIAMS
Between Your Lines
Three Days in Bed
I Hold On
Angel From Montgomery
Without Jesus Here With Me