January 16

Lovett, Hiatt trade tunes at Merrill

By Steve Feeney

In the middle of a three-stop, Maine leg of their latest tour, singer/songwriters Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt took the stage at Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Wednesday night. And although Lovett sported a lobster bib when he walked on, he and his musical partner soon got down to business, not that there wasn’t more between-songs comedy to come.

click image to enlarge

Lyle Lovett, left, and John Hiatt packed the house during a performance Wednesday at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Weathered but not unduly distressed, the veteran duo sat together at center stage with guitars in hand for an “Acoustic Evening,” performing slightly quieter versions of (mostly) their own songs of love, regret, hope and faith to a packed house of fans who welcomed the pair like old friends.

Both artists have roots in the alternative country/rock music trend that emerged in the late 1980s.

Though each is versatile, Lovett generally leans toward the pristine cry of the lonesome cowboy while Hiatt is more the gruff but soulful survivor of too many lost weekends. They met most effectively on tunes based in blues and gospel music.

Hovering between parallel and intersecting performances, the two took turns singing, offering occasional vocal and instrumental backing for the other. They honored a few requests but it seemed like those were probably tunes they would have played anyway.

“Real Fine Love” and “Tennessee Plates” were two early numbers by a bespectacled Hiatt, who sat to the right. Lovett mixed in a jazzy “She’s No Lady” and his classic “L.A. County” to get things underway.

Hiatt hit a fine groove with “Buffalo River Home” before the pair offered a bluesy interlude highlighted by Lovett’s take on “White Boy Lost in the Blues” and Hiatt’s powerful “Master of Disaster.”

Lovett’s lovely “Fiona” engendered a long, funny story from the singer about an audience member who once tried to illustrate the lyrics and his “If I Had a Boat” was, as always, spellbinding.

Hiatt’s rendition of “Have a Little Faith in Me” received thunderous applause while Lovett’s comic gospel piece “Church” had the crowd swaying in their seats.

The hits just kept on coming during an evening when a pair of artists who have been working together off and on for more than 20 years bonded rather naturally with a large audience, many of whom had obviously been appreciating their work for just as long.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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