Hiatt and Lovett make for a great evening

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt on Feb. 10, 2010, at Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.If you had as much fun as I did Thursday night, you had a great time.

I don’t know what you were doing, but I was watching Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.

The show – a sellout – was in the beautiful Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Imagine the Virginia Theatre with a huge lobby and much more balcony seating, but every bit as intimate as a performance space, and you have it. (One caveat – if you’re tall, get an aisle seat. I’m a shade over 6 feet tall and my knees were against the seat in front of me. Sorry about that, whoever you were.)

The stage set was spare: chairs, guitars and microphones. Just one guitar apiece for the whole night. Hiatt and Lovett came in, sat down and tuned up. Then, for the next two hours, they traded songs, barbs and jokes and appeared to enjoy one another’s company as much as the audience did.

It was the best show I’ve seen in a long time.

Apart from the musical experience, it was just fun. I told my wife as we drove home that I’d pay to hear these guys talk to one another.

Pleasant surprises: Lovett’s voice, and Hiatt’s lead guitar playing.

My wife and I bought tickets to this show because we’re fans of Hiatt; it was one of the early discoveries of things we had in common. We have 15 of his albums; there may be one or two we’ve missed. He is the only guy who has rhymed “amoeba” and “Sheba” – and then Bonnie Raitt recorded it on a Grammy-winning album. (Hiatt said during the show that that song put two daughters through college.)

John HiattSo our decision to go was solely because of Hiatt. That’s what made Lovett such a bonus. If you know Lovett’s music, imagine what a revelation he was. An off-kilter sense of humor, similar to Hiatt’s, and a wonderful tenor voice.

For two dozen songs, these guys charmed us and, apparently, each other. On about a fourth of the songs, they performed together. Hiatt played lead acoustic guitar on some of Lovett’s songs, while Lovett sang harmony on some of Hiatt’s.

But mostly, Hiatt would play, and then listen as Lovett played.

There were only three stops left on the 24-city tour after Thursday night: Friday night in Joliet, Saturday at Indianapolis and Sunday at Louisville, Ky. It started in Massachusetts, went through Maine and Virginia, but was mostly in the Midwest.

"We haven't seen grass," Hiatt said, "in a month."

Hiatt started, with “Lift Up Every Stone” from the album “Crossing Muddy Waters.” Lovett went next, with “In My Own Mind” from “My Baby Don’t Tolerate.”

And for a little more than two hours, we were treated to really smart lyrics, very nice guitar work and two guys who were obviously having fun.

Lovett can hold a note for a long time. Actually, so can Hiatt, who did just that singing harmony on one of Lovett's songs. There is a clarity to Lovett's voice that made for a perfect counterpoint to the rougher baritone Hiatt has.  

When Hiatt sang “Thing Called Love,” Lovett sang backup. Seriously: Lyle Lovett is doing your backup vocals. This is a pretty good deal.

Lyle Lovett(There was an extended bit when Hiatt, noting that Lovett had toured some years ago with Raitt, wondered why she had left out a spoken bridge from the song as he originally wrote it. It was first-rate, theatrical comedy with timing as precise as any you’ll see.)

A little thing that was very cool: Each time one joined in on the other’s song, they reached across and shook hands afterward. It was such a touching gesture.

The finale was Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat.” Hiatt played some mean lead guitar on that one.

The two walked offstage after the song, but the crowd wasn’t about to let it end there. A standing ovation brought them back for two more songs: Hiatt sang “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and Lovett sang “My Baby Don’t Tolerate.”

Both of the songs, like both of the songwriters and the whole evening, were exceptional.

Now I have to go shopping for Lyle Lovett albums. Suggestions? Favorites?

(Gadgets used Thursday night: Canon S5 IS digital camera with 12x optical zoom (these pictures were from what would have been the back of the balcony at the Virginia); small LED flashlight for taking notes; portable iPod speaker dock with rechargeable batteries and iPod for listening on the drive there and back -- the car we took doesn't have an iPod input.)

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