Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt

You were a tiny spark
Caught in your parents’ eyes
When they made love in the dark
You were the big surprise
And the old man came through
Gave his very best for you
And your mother’s arms
They kept you warm
Like no other arms could do

When you couldn’t find the light
At the top of the stairs
When you cried in the night
Well, you knew they were there
Will the light of the day
Was as bright as it seemed
And you knew in your heart
You were livin’ the rest of the dream

For Christmas, S bought me tickets to see Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert in London. She’s grown up hearing them both on the car stereo, and Hiatt’s songs, especially, came to have a very special meaning for her. ‘Living the Rest of the Dream’ was our song, three of us bound together in one life; ‘Perfectly Good Guitar’ was for rockin’ out; ‘Drive South’ accompanied our car trips, whether to Cornwall, the south of France or Italy.  More recently, for S, ‘Child of the Wild Blue Yonder’ became a personally defining song.  Traversing a rough time at work and in her personal life,  and to signify her determination to power her way through, she had tattooed on her foot a line from the lyric: the power just to be.

If you see her falling
That’s just a little trick she does
She makes a dive for the pain that’s calling
Then heads for the clouds like a little dove…

Medicine woman raised her
Spirit father praised her
Through their love she was set free
From a baby kicking and screaming
To a full blood woman dreaming
With the power just to be

So anyway…Monday night we join the crowd at the Empire, Shepherd’s Bush to see Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt play together in a format they’ve been presenting to audiences in the US for a few years now, but, as far as I’m aware, never before in Britain. The format is plain and simple: the two alternate songs from their extensive back catalogue, accompanied only by their own guitars, and between songs trade gags, anecdotes and musical memories. Lovett plays the dry, straight man with his deadpan humour. The two spend almost as much time talking in between songs as playing music – which we found fascinating and entertaining, but which annoyed some insensitive boor in the audience who yelled ‘Get on with it, guys!’  Lovett seemed rattled, hurriedly moving on to the next song, but Hiatt dedicated the next song to ‘the man who had a train to catch’.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, songwriting troubadours from Texas and Tennessee respectively, have forged an unusual alliance in recent years. Both men are in their fifties, with extensive back catalogues and dedicated, if ageing, fan bases. So the idea of pooling resources and going on the road together was not, in itself, so radical. But they have gone one step further and evolved an affectionate, slightly quirky double act that proved to be surprisingly more than the sum of the parts involved.  Sitting next to each other and cradling their acoustic guitars at the front of a vast area of empty stage, the two men swapped anecdotes, cracked jokes and fired off songs in turn, each of them occasionally contributing to the other’s number, or else just soaking up the music and enjoying their good buddy’s company.  “We’ve been on the bus together for three weeks and . . .” Hiatt said, “We’re starting to finish off each other’s sentences,” Lovett continued.
Review, The Times

This was how the evening progressed: each man would take it in turn to play and sing, revealing the contrasts between their songwriting and performing styles. Hiatt sings a lot about cars and guitars: he sang ‘Thunderbird’, one of his more recent songs, a paen to the classic Ford of the 50s and 60s, and in ‘Slow Turning’ he sang:

My only pride and joy
Was this racket down here
Banging on an old guitar
And singin’ what I had to say

His approach to the guitar is that of a rocker, bashing out the rhythm, most notably on  ‘Riding With the King’  and ‘Master of Disaster’. Talking about recording the Master of Disaster album, produced by close friend Jim Dickinson who died last year, John recalled that the inscription on Jim’s headstone reads: ‘Not gone, just dead’.

Lyle, on the other hand, picks the guitar with a certain delicacy and sparseness, and favours songs that are either introspective miniatures like ‘A Simple Song’ or Pontiac’ or which  showcase his wry humour, such as  ‘She’s No Lady’ and  ‘Her First Mistake’.

All in all, apart from having to undergo the endurance test of standing through a lengthy set of two and a half hours, this was a great evening and a Christmas gift for which I give grateful thanks.  And there was more – towards the end my joy was unbounded when Lyle and John were joined on stage by another of my guitar heroes, Joe Ely, who who ‘happened to be in town’ (apparently to record a show with Lyle and John for BBC TV). He sang the Flatlanders tune, ‘Wishing for a Rainbow’ and his own ‘My Eyes Got Lucky’ before the trio did a great version of  Woody Guthrie’s ‘Ain’t Gonna be Treated This Way’. They wrapped up the show with a rather low-key rendition of  ‘Ain’t No More Cane’.

Setlist

Lyle: I Will Rise Up, She’s Already Made Up Her Mind, If I Had a Boat, She’s No Lady, Pontiac, My Baby Don’t Tolerate, Her First Mistake, LA County, Simple Song

John: Memphis in the Meantime, Riding With the King, Real Fine Love, Drive South, Slow Turning, Thing Called Love, Thunderbird, Master of Disaster, Crossing Muddy Waters, Like a Freight Train (the only new song – from his forthcoming album The Open Road)

Joe: Wishing for a Rainbow, My Eyes Got Lucky

Lyle ,  John & Joe: Ain’t Gonna be Treated This Way, Ain’t No More Cane

A few YouTube clips, the first three from recent nights on the European tour:

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett, Brussels, 10.2.2010: If I had a boat

Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt, Zurich 1.2.2010: My Baby Don’t Tolerate

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett, Milan, 2.2.2010: Memphis in the Meantime

John Hiatt – Thunderbird (album track)

John Hiatt – Slow Turning (DVD track)

And finally…for S, the song she waited for, but John didn’t sing:

John Hiatt: Child Of The Wild Blue Yonder (live, Italian TV 1993)

Lyle: I Will Rise Up
5. John: Memphis in the Meantime
6. Lyle: If I Had a Boat
7. John: Real Fine Love
8. Lyle: Penguins
9. John: Drive South
10. Lyle: Walk Through the Bottomland
11. John: What Do We Do Now
12. Lyle: She’s No Lady
13. John: Seven Little Indians
14. Lyle: The Waltzing Fool
15. John: What Love Can Do
16. Lyle: Keep It In Your Pantry
17. John: Slow Turning
18. Lyle: Home Is Where My Horse Is
19. John: Thing Called Love
20. Lyle: My Baby Don’t Tolerate
21. Lyle & John: Ain’t No More Cane

One thought on “Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt

  1. S actually had a little tear in her eye when she read your blog – seriously moving. The best Dad deserves the best present.xx

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