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John Hiatt Preaches to the Converted

John Hiatt Preaches to the Converted

“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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