Ithaca Blog

Monday, February 25, 2008

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett

We normally don't post on Mondays, but there have been a lot of hits on our site for John Hiatt-Lyle Lovett State Theater Review, so we will try quickly to oblige.

If you missed it, of course, you missed it. The show was a complete sell-out: within days of its announcement.

There was a big sense of anticipation to the night. The proceedings were a little more refined than normal, perhaps reflecting the status of these stars. It wasn't quite hushed (there were calls for requests, and shouts of love), but you got the feeling no one wanted to miss a word or moment.

Lovett and Hiatt sat knee-to-knee on a well-lit stage. They alternated songs, not chiming in much together, although Hiatt sang harmony on three or four of Lovett's numbers, and played lead on a few.

The interchange came mostly between songs, when they conversed. Lovett informally adopted the role of emcee, with questions for Hiatt about his life, upbringing, and work. Hiatt talked about an overweight childhood, stealing a Ford Thunderbird at age 14 (inspiration for a well-known song), his early career opening for John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, and others, when he hitchhiked between gigs to save money, his big break playing Fender Telecaster for Ry Cooder's band in the early 1980's, and sleeping in the bed the Dalai Lama slept in, at La Tourelle last night.

Lovett spoke some about his father, his Lutheran upbringing, his own worst misstep as a child (letting a cow out of his uncle's barn), early days in Texas and introduction to Nashville as a star in the late 1980's, and an early influence: a music teacher who came to Texas from Ithaca. Lovett said it was his first trip to Ithaca, "and I hope not my last."

It was a charming performance. Both men seemed impeccably humble, despite their stardom. Their conversation was introspective but engaging. They were funny. They were nice.

Seeing Lovett sing live, and unadorned, added a large dose of personality and soulfulness to his music. His voice is fine, but ordinarily does not convey much emotion, at least not of a revelatory type. Last night there was heart to the well-shaped notes.

Hiatt, on the other hand, has a gutteral but wailing voice that makes the ordinary sound eerie. His guitar playing is forceful and filled with feeling. Towards the end of the show he left his heart, one felt, with a lover's song pleading and promising faith. It would make a perfect wedding song, if it wasn't so real.

They finished their encore with the prison worksong, "Ain't No More Cane." They played for almost three hours, without a break. The set list of their last show, in Albany, was considerably less. It was the aura and the ambience of the State Theater that brought more, we think. Maybe, too, the Dalai Lama's bed.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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