PORTLAND — The only thing missing was a pot-belly stove.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, two of this generation’s most respected songwriters, played a two-hour show for a sold-out crowd at the State Theatre in Portland on Friday. They sat side by side, guitars in hand, and traded songs back and forth while weaving funny stories and sordid tales.

The evening had a relaxed, casual feel, and for good reason. These two guys have been friends for many years and have toured together off and on since 1989. While segments of the show were clearly planned and rehearsed, a large portion of it felt spontaneous and casual.

The tour began Thursday in Boston and extends through mid-February, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

After Hiatt finished off a rollicking version of his song “Tennessee Plates” about a small-time car thief, Lovett tried to embarrass his friend by goading him to confess that the song has autobiographical roots.

“You as a young man knew how to hot-wire a car,” Lovett said, smiling.

Hiatt corrected him. “We only stole cars that had the keys in them.”

Back and forth it went, one joke and one story after another, leading from song to song like a game of six degrees of separation.

Stripped down to their acoustic shells, the songs we heard on Friday were purely Americana in the truest sense of the musical term — songs that make us appreciate our time and place, and reflect on our collective culture.

Over the course of the swift-flowing evening, we heard rain songs, train songs, love songs, out-of-love songs, prison songs, marriage songs — Lovett quipped that the latter two might be one and the same — blues songs, rock songs, funny songs and sad songs.

Whether it was Lovett lamenting a wilted love in “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind” or Hiatt begging for deeper passion in “Drive South,” these two played book-ends to one another. Lovett was coy and controlled, singing in perfect pitch and playing his acoustic guitar with precision. Hiatt was loose and edgy, his voice ragged and rough.

The nice thing about Friday’s performance was a feeling of cameraderie. Never a moment felt like one was trying to outdo the other, or one-up him with something flashy. They accompanied each other on several songs, and finished off the show with a spine-chilling duet on the old-time Texas tune “Ain’t No More Cane,” which both men have recorded.

The show felt warm. The audience loved it and gave the pair a rousing standing ovation at the close. Both have played in Portland many times, and both had friends in the audience. It was refreshingly obvious that they were comfortable on stage, with each other and with the crowd.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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