Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt
Garde Arts Center, New London, CT
January 20, 2017
The Garde Arts Center was the perfect setting for Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt’s intimate acoustic duet performance.
The Garde is a historic theater in downtown New London celebrating it’s 90th anniversary. The theater still has the feel of the majestic performing houses of the early 20th century with cloth seats, ornate decorations on the walls and balcony seats. It holds a little over 1400 patrons which was a perfect size for this show.
The show consisted of two excellent singer, songwriters, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt and a couple of acoustic guitars for each artist. That’s it. No fancy sets, lighting shows, neon or strobe lights. Both men came out dressed in their Sunday best, suit and tie. It was just about as pure as it gets. Lovett and Hiatt made this work perfectly and the audience didn’t need it any other way. The show was a combination of songs from each performers vast library of tunes intermingled with witty banter about being on the road and life with other performers over their decades of touring.
Lyle Lovett would sing one of his songs with back up harmony and accompaniment on guitar by Hiatt. Then the roles would reverse and John Hiatt would sing with harmonies by Lovett. The format was entertaining and spanned country, blues, Texas swing and some of their mainstream alternative country classics. They sang both the award winning songs and lesser known obscure ones.
They both have so many songs to choose from that, as Lyle Lovett mentioned, they go into each show with no real setlist and float from one song to another picking lead in from the previous song. They played off each other like a straight man and his sidekick. Both have a dry wit and an easy style of country humor that brought the audience along with laughter. It was such an easy night akin to sitting around country store in Texas or a barstool in Memphis picking and storytelling. If it is scripted beforehand you wouldn’t know.
Lovett is a songwriter and actor is addition to his longstanding career as a country, blues and Texas swing singer. He hails from Texas and has 20 albums in his storied career. His other lesser known talent is comedy. He had the audience going from chuckles to full out laughter at his insights in the preambles to the songs. He performed “She’s No Lady” and “Her First Mistake” as well as the very Texan “Don’t Touch My Hat”. He also included some of his lesser heard tunes to round out his half of the songs. His deadpan humor made each song more enjoyable.
John Hiatt has done 22 albums has been singing and playing for 40 years. He played with many of the greats. His voice is more grizzled than Lovett but that only serves to compliment the harmonies of Lovett’s tenor better. The best of his playlist were brought out “Seven Little Indians” and “Drive South. He crooned his blues toned “Cadillac with Tennessee Plates” to the audience delight. There was a new song “Over the Hill”, a great song I hope to hear more of in the future. Hiatt played his harmonica with gusto and his playing has only gotten better over the years. But, Hiatt has another talent that surprised the audience, he can whistle. I don’t mean just whistle. He belted out a whistle that was pitch perfect and resonated throughout the theater like a fine tuned instrument. It was one of those wow moments where you can hear a pin drop in the audience. I think he took most everyone by surprise judging by the applause as the song ended.
Many went into the theater for this sold out show expecting a great concert. I don’t think the audience expected to be as blown away as we were by such an exceptional concert done with the most minimal of equipment out there, a couple of guitars and a harmonica. This is a pairing of talents that was meant to be. New London may be in the middle of New England, but it was all Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas in the The Garde this January night. The Garde outdid themselves booking these men and I sincerely hope we see them back there in the future. If you get the chance do not miss this duo. Grab your tickets and see them while you can.
Review by Donna Erichsen
Photos by George Bekris
Interior Garde photos courtesy of Rita Rivera