LIVE: John Hiatt & The Goners @ The Egg, 8/24/18
Review by Bokonon
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
30 years ago, John Hiatt released his ninth album, Slow Turning.
Hiatt was coming off a career high, with Bring the Family, a masterstroke recorded with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner (who would eventually coalesce for a single eponymous disc as Little Village, taking its name from a Sonny Boy Williamson recording).
Slow Turning upped the ante on Family, packed with Hiatt’s sly humor and his swampiest, growlingest vocals to date. He had a dozen great songs, and, tellingly, he had a terrific band in a Louisiana trio dubbed The Goners. The rhythm section — drummer Kenneth Blevins and bassist David Ranson — was tighter than a rat’s asshole and guitarist Sonny Landreth was, quite simply, a revelation.
Landreth, who would later be hailed as one of the all-time greats by Eric Clapton, played slide like a demon, inventing new ways and new tones by playing in back of the glass, over the neck, behind his eyes and inside out. Mother. Fucker.
30 years ago, Mr. Nippertown and I were lucky enough to catch The Goners on the road, more than once. Mr. Nippertown had invented the word “begoggled” to describe his emotional state at a private event featuring music by Art and Aaron Neville. Evidently it’s a word with Louisiana roots because it’s the only way to describe how
we felt watching Landreth live.
I’ve since seen the man (Landreth) at everything from backyard Frito chili pie parties in Austin to louder-than-god band gigs at the Turning Point. Begoggled every time.
30 years later at the sold-out show atThe Egg’s Hart Theatre, begoggled again. Mother. Fucker.
Hiatt and The Goners are on the road, celebrating Slow Turning’s auspicious birthday by playing it in full. The crew hit Albany as part of the journey, with Hiatt praising the venue he’s played many times, not for its curious shape, but for its welcoming vibe.
The beauty was that this was no note-for-note nod, but a living thing. A concert for the room. Music for now.
Hiatt’s phrasing on the album is a wonder, with as much information packed in to the spaces as into the words. In his Friday night show at The Egg, he was much more casual with his mouth, tossing off key lines and killer choruses with the wisdom of his age, seen through a cracked rear view.
Hiatt was looser, having fun. He’s sung many of these songs hundreds of times without The Goners (who did more than one disc with him), and he took advantage of having them back by getting greezy. “Paper Thin” was fonky! “Tennessee Plates” was rippin’.
And he clearly relished standing beside Landreth again, who shook things up on his own, playing — pretty hard to believe — better than ever. For all his fire and brimstone (good lord, to hear the man slide a Firebird!), Landreth knows how to lay out, and his spare commentary on “Icy Blue Heart,” such a highlight of the original album, was as chill as the title. And perfect, too.
Best of the evening was “Is Anybody There?” with Hiatt behind the piano. He hit the keys again for an encore of Family’s “Have a Little Faith in Me.” And he opened the show with a generous selection of solo acoustic tunes, including new stuff slated for an upcoming disc.
It’s a longtime trend, paying tribute to entire albums — of one’s own as well as others. It’s not a bad thing, unless it’s purely a nostalgia trip. It was grand to hear Hiatt look back. It will be more interesting (as evinced by those solo numbers) to see what he does next.