An Acoustic Evening With Lyle Lovett And John Hiatt, Blumenthal Center October 9th, 2008

>> Saturday, October 11, 2008

Here's the prologue, if you will. It's September, and I'm casting around for an idea for what to get my Mom for her birthday, which is on October 3rd, figuring that if I order an album or something for her, I'll need to get online with Amazon or whoever pretty soon so it doesn't arrive in, I don't know, November or something. I'm really terrible at birthdays, to tell you the truth. There have been one or two times over the past three decades that I've managed to knock one out of the park, but mostly it's a lot of flopping around and eventually buying an LP or CD. I've gotten away with that because, if I do say so myself, my musical tastes tend towards the awesome. (No, no I'm not full of myself--why do you ask?)

Anyway, I'm out with my buddy Nate, seeing some band I've already forgotten the name of and their much-superior opening act who I've also forgotten, out at the Visualite Theatre near downtown, when I see a poster for "An Acoustic Evening With Lyle Lovett And John Hiatt." Well, gee--I love those guys, and my Mom loves those guys, so... and a little blue LED bips into eye-burning radiance over my head because I'm too geeky to have something as so-Twentieth-Century as a lightbulb go off over my head.

So the next day, I get online, and I buy what turn out to be two of the last tickets to what ends up being a sold-out show, a pair of seats up by the rafters.

So, fast-forward to almost a week after my Mom's birthday, to when she actually got her present. She drove up from Columbia, SC, on the afternoon of, and then we went downtown to see what turned out to be one of the best concerts probably either one of us had ever seen.

Actually, here we have another aside, of sorts: comparing concerts, I've realized, is kind of a sucker bet in a lot of ways. I'm going to skip the list of shows I started to get carried away with and simply say it can be apples and oranges to try to come up with a metric that allows you to compare the spectacle of, say, a Pink Floyd show with the musicianship of a Herbie Hancock show with the rawfuckingenergy of Springsteen. Emmylou Harris is a completely different awesome from Radiohead, and they're both pretty awesome shows, you feel me?

Contrary to what you might think if you study this picture, the gentlemen in it actually like each other and John Hiatt is not left-handedLyle Lovett and John Hiatt are two of the finest singer-songwriters in America these days. And here we have the kind of gushy, hyperbolic statement that's indefensible to anybody who doesn't already agree with me, which is probably nearly everybody who's heard the two performers. I'm sure there's a small percentage of people who have listened to one or the other and don't get it, and that's fine--tastes differ, and some people have none (that's a joke, laugh, move along).

The tour they're on now consists of shows where the two gentleman enter the stage unaccompanied, sit down with a pair of acoustic guitars, and play songs and banter between the songs. No flash, which would defeat the point of the whole thing. Lovett will play a song, sometimes accompanied on harmony vocals or lead guitar by Hiatt, who is one of the finest guitar players in the U.S., aside from his talents as a songwriter's songwriter. And then Hiatt will play a song, usually alone, though once or twice Lovett will join in on a vocal; mostly Lovett simply sits and listens, one arm leisurely draped over the bridge of his guitar to mute any stray noise from vibrations or feedback. They played and sang together for the final numbers and part of the encore, but mostly it's back and forth. Between songs, they just kind of shoot the breeze, basically. And it doesn't seem they have a setlist--they say they don't, and I assume they're telling the truth: Lovett made a joke at one point about dragging the mood down because, he said, he tends to pick a sad song after Hiatt plays a sad song, and then both musicians joshed and jived about doing a faster tune to balance things, and Lovett told a really funny story about a bowling alley he played in the '80s before he'd been signed to a label or been noticed by anyone.

Which brings up one of the several remarkable things about this pairing, which seems so strange and natural at once. These are two funny guys, who often write dryly funny songs (e.g. Lovett's "Skinny Legs," which he played), but who are two totally different kinds of dryly funny. And yet their senses of humor mesh really, really well.

As do their styles, which is another bizarre and wonderful example. Hiatt is more-or-less a rocker, with some country and rockabilly twang to his work, but he's a man who can totally sell a song like "Perfectly Good Guitar" (he didn't play that one Thursday). Lovett is--well, sheesh, everyone says Lovett is country, but he's also pop and big band and, and, and Lovett. And where Hiatt's work is spectacular but also traditionally-grounded in blues and country playing styles, Lovett (who's a very good guitar player on his own, actually), has this kind of jazzy thing he does with his playing, he has a kind of distinctive, loose swinging sound in his playing. And it works just unbelievably well, it's not jarring to hear them switch from some folk-ey country song to something with a kind of barrelhouse vibe, or to hear Hiatt join in on some swinging Lovett number with a blistering blues-rock solo. How that works, I don't know. They're the Reese's Peanut Butter cup of the year's tours, these two different tastes that are sublime together.

The seats were almost as far from the stage as could be, but the Blumenthal Center is a relatively new auditorium with modern acoustics, and you could hear everything as clearly as if it had been playing on your home stereo while you sat on a couch you'd positioned with the help of a calibration disc and a soundmeter for optimum stereo separation and THX or Dolby performance. Well, almost as clearly, but you get the idea. I'd been warning my Mom that the best seats I'd been able to get were pretty far and high, and my Mom (who'd been to the Blumenthal before; I hadn't) kept reassuring me that the acoustics were great, and I can happily pass along that Mother at least knows best re: concert acoustics. If you're in Charlotte sometime, it's a good venue.

Oh, and my Mom, by the way, loved the show. Once again, with some luck at my back, I done good. Then again, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt--how was that going to miss?

They're touring at least through the end of the year, and if you can score tickets you need to, you have to. It's a phenomenal show, it really, really is, and there are worse things you can do with your money than seeing two of the most-talented performers in the country on stage together palling it up (for instance, you could buy stock in a commercial bank--ho-ohhhh!, rimshot). Superb performers, superb show.

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