“I thought we were gonna make that bridge, what did I know?”
That was the opening line of the opening song – “My Old Friend” by John Hiatt – at The Egg in Albany on Tuesday night. And that pretty much summed up the theme of the evening, too – hopes and dreams, frequently shattered and deferred, respectively.
Stage left-to-right John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett – two master singer-songwriters (and, yes, old friends, as well) – sat together side-by-side with their acoustic guitars, trading songs back and forth all night long.
And as grand as those songs were, perhaps the real highlights of the night were the off-the-cuff between-tune chats between the two old friends. As expected, the talk veered off in strange and unexpected directions. For example, Lovett divulged that Tom Wopat (you know, “The Dukes of Hazard”?) generally seems to miss a spot when he’s shaving. A spot that Lovett has dubbed the “Wopatch.”
Yeah, that’s just not the kind of top secret information that you expect to hear revealed during a sold-out concert by a pair of roots-rockin’ veterans. It’s clear that there’s not a “script” involved here.
They name-checked some of their favorite musicians – Hal Ketchum, Eric Taylor and Robert Earl Keen, Jr. among them. They discussed the nature of civility. Rivers and roads. Facebook. Cellphones. French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. There was an awful lot of honest-to-goodness, real-life stream of consciousness going on. And it was a hoot.
Which is not to say that the music was secondary to the chat. Clearly working without a set list, one Hiatt song would spur the next selection from Lovett, weaving together a theme. Most obvious was a delightful exchange that began with Hiatt’s joyous “Drive South,” an exuberant ode to love and travel. Lovett responded, saying, “Here’s another road-trip song,” as he launched into the gloriously treacherous spurned-love murder ballad “LA County.” Then Hiatt strapped on a harmonica for “The Open Road,” and Lovett launched into “The Road to Ensenada.” You might have thought the twosome was Bob Hope and Bing Crosby of the roots-rock set judging by the way they dove into those road songs.
But all wasn’t perfect, by any means. There was minimal musical interaction between the two during the songs, except for the show-closing tandem of “The Thing Called Love” and Lovett’s throw-away novelty song, “Choke My Chicken.” Hiatt was not in the best of voice, and he was straining his vocal cords mightily on several selections throughout the night, most notably “Master of Disaster.” And neither of their guitars sounded very good, especially Lovett’s which was much too loud in the mix and distractingly bright-sounding.
Still, there were magnificent moments. Hiatt’s intimate waltz, “No Wicked Grin.” Lovett’s Cajun howl through “Fiona.” And the truly sublime and unexpected encore pairing of Hiatt’s “Through Your Hands” and Lovetts’ “This Old Porch.”
After the show and the duo had taken their bows, the audience filed out of the sold-out theater to the sound of Buck Owens’ gem “Together Again” playing through the loudspeakers. Yeah, it was good to see ’em together again. And, yeah, I’m ready to see their next show, too.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Every time you hear these guys, you think they’re sounding better than the last time. Tuesday night was no different, from the feel they bring to their delivery, to the control they have of their phrases, to the meaning they give to their songs. The lyrics and melody doesn’t change, but their take on it does. The hardest hitting tunes came from Hiatt, with his ‘Drive South’ and the bluesy ‘My Baby,’ one of the few tunes of the night that had attitude, even though he was again on the losing end.”
JOHN HIATT & LYLE LOVETT SET LIST
My Old Friend (Hiatt)
Private Conversation (Lovett, continue alternating)
Howlin’ Down the Cumberland
Walk Through the Bottomland
The Open Road
The Road to Ensenada
Creeps Like Me
No Wicked Grin
Master of Disaster
Crossing Muddy Waters
If I Had a Boat
Thing Called Love (Hiatt/Lovett)
Choke My Chicken (Hiatt/Lovett)
Through Your Hands (Hiatt)
This Old Porch (Lovett)