LIVE: Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 10/6/15
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Outside on State Street in Troy, there were two big bright shiny tour buses and a huge tractor trailer. On stage inside the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, there were two straight-back chairs, four acoustic guitars and two sublime singer-songwriters. Heck, you could have fit it all into a station wagon.
Old friends Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt have been doing this sit-down, back-and-forth guitar pull thing for years. Before that, they did it as a trio with Joe Ely. And before that, it was a quartet of tunesmiths with Ely and Guy Clark. So it’s clear that they’ve honed in on each other in almost every way, and they know their onstage roles.
And make no mistake, their between-tune patter is as essential to their show as their songs. Dry as the Sahara and rarely cracking even a smile, Lovett plays the straight man/inquisitor, asking questions to the rubber-faced Hiatt, who steers his response to the comic side of the street and cracks up at the drop of a hat. Heck, I’d pay good money to see these guys together onstage even if they didn’t play a single song all night. They’re like the Rowan & Martin of the pre-Americana set.
And their sold-out show in Troy last Tuesday night was the kick-off concert of their month-long tour together, so the chatter seemed genuinely off the cuff. There certainly wasn’t much of a script as they amiably chatted about Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, the Houston Astros, Flatt & Scruggs, growing up Catholic (Hiatt) and Lutheran (Lovett), student loans, the arm gestures of Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, stealing cars at age 14 (“We were amateur bad kids,” said Hiatt), the pre-electronic tuner era of tuning forks, Lovett recording with Little Feat’s Bill Payne, the first of Hiatt’s songs to be recorded by someone else (“Thinking of You” by Tracy Nelson & Mother Earth), new laws in Texas (“You can’t even drink and drive anymore,” Lovett explained), the purpose of drop G guitar tuning, a one-eyed guy in Kansas City, singing in the school choir and, of course, the Pope (Hiatt: “He seems like a nice fella.” Lovett: “I think he’s pretty cool.”)
There were indeed songs, too. Hiatt opened with “Come Back Home,” and Lovett countered with Michael Franks’ “White Boy Lost in the Blues.” They alternated throughout the two-and-a-half-hour-plus show, Hiatt frequently chiming in on Lovett’s songs on guitar, harmonica and vocals. Lovett, on the other hand, didn’t join in on any of Hiatt’s tunes until he finally sang just a bit of backing vocal at the end of the night on “Cry Love.”
Hiatt served up three songs from his latest album, Terms of My Surrender, with a gospelesque “Face of God” as the best of the batch. His soul ballad encore of “Have a Little Faith in Me’ was as devastating as ever. Meanwhile, Lovett – who hasn’t release an album of new original material in six years, served up his requisite classics (“LA County,” “If I had a Boat”) but also tossed in some choice covers by Michael Franks, the Grateful Dead and his old pal Guy Clark (Lovett’s show-closing rendition of Clark’s “Step Inside This House” was his best performance of the night).
Sure, we could quibble about the sound – overall too loud for the room, and an annoyingly bright, treble-heavy tone on Lovett’s guitar – robbing some of the intimacy from the show, but in fact, it would just that – a quibble. At the end of the night, Lovett thanked the crowd for their attendance, adding “Thank you for giving me the chance to sit this close to John Hiatt.” Perfect…
LYLE LOViTT & JOHN HIATT SET LIST
Come Back Home
White Boy Lost in the Blues (Michael Franks)
Face of God
Real Fine Love
If I Had a Boat
She’s No Lady
South Texas Girl
Crossing Muddy Waters
Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead)
Memphis in the Meantime
One Way Gal (William Moore)
Adios to California
Road to Ensenada
Perfectly Good Guitar
Step Inside This House (Guy Clark)
Have a Little Faith in Me
My Baby Don’t Tolerate