So, we just got back from seeing John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett playing together on acoustic guitars at the Midland Theater in Newark, Ohio.
I'll try to keep the superlatives to a minimum here because I'm still on a concert high from watching two giants perform in close quarters for over two hours. Let's start with the details.
First of all, if you are in one of these places, you should seriously consider doing whatever it takes to get to one of these shows.
The format of these show is dead simple and stripped of any pretense or cover for the artists. Basically, there are two chairs on the stage. Lovett and Hiatt make an unceremonious entrance, sit down and start playing songs on their acoustic guitars. They take turns playing songs and in between they talk about whatever is on their mind. It could not be more simple. At the same time, it's obviously a huge exposure artistically. There's not a backing band or vocals to cover your wavering voice or missed note on the guitar. The fans are sitting quietly in their seats hanging on every note.
What I'm saying is that while it is a simple format, it also lays bare the artists true talent.... In this case, what it lays bare are two very different but exceptional talents. My friends Dan and Stephanie and my wife Cathy were talking about the differences on the way home. Lyle Lovett has a very precise approach to his music. He was relaxed and genial in his banter with Hiatt and the audience, but once his songs started he was focused. While I have no way of backing this up, I'm guessing the songs sound pretty much the same from night to night. That sound features pure and strong vocals accompanied by and extremely precise guitar. He hit every note vocally and on the guitar with perfect tone. He's an absolute craftsman and the intensity of his emotion is palpable.
Complimenting Lovett's style, John Hiatt plays every song with a certain wide-open flair. One gets the impression that even if here were to play one of his songs twice in a row, it could sound completely different. He wears his heart on his sleeve in his musical interpretation. Toward the end of the set, Hiatt played "Have a Little Faith in Me;" this is one of my top 100 songs of all time, but the emotional and cerebral interpretation that Hiatt gave it tonight shed new light on an already nearly perfect song for me.
Enough about the show, let me tell you a little bit about their recent releases before I hit the sack. Lovett's most recent album is "Natural Force" (get it here on Amazon MP3). This is an interesting album in that it mixes some beautiful music with some songs that I would characterize as silly. The opening song on the album is the title track "Natural Forces." It's a song about truckers, Native Americans, soldiers and cowboys. Basically, it's about people riding the currents of their lives and history, hoping for the best - not passively, but with a sense that there are larger forces that we deal with every day and through history.
Now as I sit here safe at home
With a cold Coors Lite an' the TV on
All the sacrifice and the death and war
Lord I pray that I'm worth fighting for
I'm sitting here with my Coors Light and thinking about those things too, Lyle. Thanks for this song.
Now that I'm thinking about it, the next two songs on the album aren't really silly, but they are definately more light hearted and fun. "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel" and "Keep It in Your Pantry" lighten up the tone for the rest of the album which has some great other songs like "Empty Blue Shoes" and "Whooping Crane" that are more in the country tradition that Lovett nails.
John Hiatt's newest album (from last March) is "Open Road." Like his other albums, it's a lyrical and songwriting clinic for anyone interested in that art. The chorus of the title track is a melancholy lyric about wandering:
The open road where the hopeless come
To see if hope still runs
One by one they bring their broke down loads
And leave 'em where the hobo dreams are stowed
This is a great album. I highly recommend it.
That's all for this week, folks. Not sure what's on tap for next week, but stay tuned. Thanks for reading.