LIVE: John Hiatt & the Combo @ The Egg, 8/14/11

John Hiatt returned to The Egg with a new album “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns” and his crack band -dubbed simply the Combo – featuring longtime drummer Kenny Blevins, guitarist Doug Lancio and bassist Patrick O’Hearn. Opening with “Thank You Girl,” Hiatt and band took a couple of songs to get their feet planted firmly under them, but by the time they hit their fourth song of the evening, “Crossing Muddy Waters,” the energy went up along with the crowd responsiveness. With Lancio on electric mandolin, they followed with “Cry Love” fueled by a punky, reggae beat reminiscent of the early Police. This was the first song of the evening that kept building and reminded everyone of why they had plunked down their dollars for the show.

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At their best, such as my favorite song of the evening, “Like A Freight Train,” you feel more like you are riding shotgun with the song’s protagonist than just being a listener or observer. Sometimes when you hear a song on an album, it stands out, but you know there is room to open it up live, and that is what the band – and particularly Lancio with searing slide work – did on “Freight Train.”

Hiatt’s songs have been covered by a number of pop, blues and country artists over the years. The back-to-back albums “Bring On The Family” and “Slow Turning” in the late ’80s brought Hiatt a larger audience, and he featured eight songs from them that provided the core of the show. Included were “Thing Called Love” (with a shout-out to Bonnie Raitt who scored a hit with it), “Feels Like Rain” and “Have A Little Faith In Me” (capturing the balladry and gospel side of Hiatt as well as any of his songs, with lyrics reflecting thoughts that all of us have had, but probably not said as well). On the latter, Hiatt kept pushing his voice, and he managed to hit all the high notes, sending the audience into loud applause. And then there was the greasy rock n roll, perhaps better served up in a bar with your favorite beverage in hand, featured in such songs as “Drive South,” “ Memphis In The Meantime” and the evening’s finale “Tennessee Plates” that featured the solid rhythm section anchored by Blevins’ explosive drumming and Lancio’s fine slide work.

Although I liked some of the other rockers, such as “Thank You Girl” and “Perfectly Good Guitar,” the arrangements sounded so much like Crazy Horse that I wondered if Neil Young was going to make a guest appearance. The new album was featured five times during the show with the stand-out being the first encore “Damn This Town.” Somewhat surprisingly, he didn’t play the last cut on the new album, “When New York Had Her Heart Broke.”

Throughout the evening Hiatt seemed to be enjoying himself, talking to the audience, mentioning The Egg as though it is a fixture as a tour stop, commenting on an old ride, a Buick “deuce and a quarter” that led into “Detroit Made,” and regretfully responding to an audience request that “we haven’t rehearsed that one – I guess I’ve written too many damn songs.” My guess is that more of those “damn songs” are to come, and we will hear some of them on his next visit.

Review by Richard Brody

Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The 58-year-old works hard when he sings. He doesn’t hold his notes — he hits them and moves on instantly, forcing phrases a little like Randy Newman doing rock. His band moved from straight garage rock – like the opener ‘Thank You Girl,’ where they sounded like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse – to the folksy front-porch sound of ‘Crossing Muddy Waters.’ His guitarist, Doug Lancio, played some great leads all night, including a standout slide solo on the bluesy ‘Like a Freight Train,’ which led to a strong bandwide jam at the end.”

JOHN HIATT & THE COMBO SET LIST (most of them and generally in this order)
Thank You Girl
Till I Get My Lovin’ Back
Open Road
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cry Love
Drive South
River of Tears (title?)
Detroit Made
Freight Train
Don’t Want To Leave You Now
Thing Called Love
Slow Turning
Perfectly Good Guitar
Adios To California
Memphis In The Meantime
Damn This Town
Have A Little Faith In Me
Tennessee Plates

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