John Hiatt Preaches to the Converted

John Hiatt Preaches to the Converted

July 25, 1999 12:00 AM ET

"What's the matter - couldn't get Springsteen tickets?" John Hiatt asked the sold-out, mostly baby-boomer crowd at New York's Bottom Line. "Well, you can call me MiniBoss."| After apologizing for having cancelled a performance in February, Indianapolis' answer to Bruce told the forgiving audience he had completely recovered from throat surgery. "The Missus is glad to get me out of the house," he smiled. "She said, 'You look like shit, now get out of here!'"

With that, Hiatt - who looked the part of a sweaty country preacher standing before a faithful congregation - kicked off an evening of greatest hits with "Drive South," one of the best road-trip songs ever written.

Having been covered by musicians as diverse as Bonnie Raitt, Iggy Pop, Willie Nelson, and Jewel, Hiatt is perhaps best known as a songwriter. But as shown on The Best of John Hiatt, it is through his own passionate renditions that his songs resonate the deepest. And as performed solo before an intimate crowd on Saturday, July 17, Hiatt's music became even more personal - and unmistakably his own.

Because of Hiatt's skillful guitar work, it was difficult to tell that he was without his backing band, the Nashville Queens. With dexterity and grace, he maneuvered between piano and guitar throughout the evening and filled the stage with every ounce of soulful intensity that he possessed. His gravelly voice was sweet but forceful. At times, he pulled the unfortunate guitar face, and much like a sixth-grade student working on his science fair project, the old tongue came out for added concentration, particularly during "Tennessee Plates." But through it all, he was warm and endearing. Thoughtfully, his banter was brief before launching into each song, from "Feels Like Rain," to "Little Head," to "Ethylene."

Occasionally, Hiatt would get a good groove on and during "Memphis in the Meantime" he pulled a Presley, with a good swing of the hips and flap of the arm. There were shades of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" with a hint of flamenco flare during "Perfectly Good Guitar." Hiatt even whistled a few bars to round it out.

Hiatt brought out a few new songs that he's working on for the ten-year reunion album of his old band, the Goners. Strapping on his harmonica, he played "All the Lilacs in Ohio," and "I'll Do Anything to Come Home to You," a tender song with delicate and earnest phrasing.

But it was with his encore that he raised the bar. Even as that first piano note of "Have a Little Faith in Me" lingered in the air, one could almost feel a rush of wind pass through the club as every lover in the room reached for the hand of their significant other. Hiatt sang from within, letting his voice resound off of each adoring face turned to him. And as befitted both the preacher and his stately hymn, for the duration of the song it was as quiet as a cathedral.

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