As they took their seats on the stage of the Uptown Theater on Sunday, John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett engaged in a couple minutes of small talk.
Their genial banter about professional sports was light-hearted, but there was nothing trivial about the 25 songs they performed for an audience of about 1,200.
After Hiatt opened the concert with “Trudy and Dave,” his composition about an ill-considered crime spree, Lovett followed with “L.A. County,” a song in which a spurned lover murders a bride and groom at the wedding alter. For almost two-and-a-half hours, the pair traded memorable songs accompanied only by their acoustic guitars.
Both men rose to prominence in the 1980s.
Lovett is in the tradition of Texas troubadours like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
Hiatt, a native of Indiana, is best known for writing hits for other artists. With several landmark albums between them, both men have slipped into a comfortable groove during the past few years. Each man's recollection of the first time he appeared at the Uptown typified evening's nostalgic tone. Hiatt first performed at the venue as a member of Ry Cooder's band in 1981. Lovett recalled opening for Asleep at the Wheel at the Uptown in 1987.
While both men have employed notable musicians in their respective bands, Sunday's solo-acoustic format offered the best way to appreciate the nuances of their material.
Lovett displayed disquieting angst during “Natural Forces” and new depths of bitterness in “God Will.” The soulful ballad “Feels Like Rain” and the hard-boiled blues of “Detroit Made” showcased Hiatt's strengths. The pair collaborated on a handful of selections. Lovett's exhausted whine and Hiatt's gravelly moan intertwined on a funky version of Hiatt's “Thing Called Love” and on an exquisitely forlorn rendition of Jesse Winchester's “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz.”
The unabashed mutual admiration led to a few awkward moments -- “you're one of the greatest American singer-songwriters” Hiatt once gushed -- but more often resulted in amusing exchanges. The pair shared insights about topics ranging from life on the road to the most effective ways to relax.
“I iron,” Lovett said. “It's the thing I do best in the world.”
Although Lovett's droll wit helped sell the line, everyone in the Uptown knew that writing songs is truly the thing that he and Hiatt do better than most anyone.SET LIST
Trudy and Dave
The Lights of L.A. County
White Boy Lost in the Blues
Window On the World
In My Own Mind
Icy Blue Heart
Don't Touch My Hat
Crossing Muddy Waters
I Will Rise Up
Memphis In the Meantime
I've Been to Memphis
Friend of Mine
One Way Gal
Feels Like Rain
Thing Called Love
The Brand New Tennessee Waltz
Have a Little Faith In Me
My Baby Don't Tolerate