Two Guys and Their Guitars

PABST THEATER, MILWAUKEE — So how’s this for folking it up? Shortly after writing the above posting, I saw Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt sitting on a stage with nothing but their two acoustic guitars and a little table between them with some water bottles — like sitting out on your front porch. This was the folk-music mode in essence. At first, Hiatt mumbled his words and Lovett fumbled his first song, stopping after four lines and saying, “Uh, John, maybe I should leave the singing to you.” But he gathered himself and started singing a completely different song.
So it went, each rummaging around for the next song to sing, and audience folks in the Pabst Theater talking to them randomly and they’d always politely respond. That got out of hand late in the concert when about 40 different requests came raining down on them almost simultaneously. That’s what happens when you cram 800 people onto your front porch. But they were both affable, humorous and charming. I think Lovett’s big hair presses down on his brain too much — he’s a little odd but you can almost imagine how he charmed Julia Roberts into marrying him, at least until he got his haircut and the pressure eased and he temporarily lost his quirky powers, like a goofus Sampson.
But he’s very smart and insightful and always has an aw-shucks ballad to sing. Both men did find their grooves and performed superbly — Hiatt especially traveled deep into his blues-infused story-songs, often pulling a menagerie of moods along with him: “I never felt so free, just my dog and me…how many times can one dog pee?”
So after he sang “All The Way Under” (from his marvelous recent alum Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns), Lovett said, “So we want to know, how low have you really gotten?” Hiatt chuckled and said “I’m still working on that.” Lovett is still workin’ on romance, sort of. He mooed out a courting ballad, written after meeting a beautiful lunch-counter waitress who only had eyes for his buddy. The sorry little kicker: “Now I’m stuck with this song/and I’ll never be able to use it.” For a moment you believed either he was never close to lovely Julia’s league, or that or maybe any of us romantic schlubs might just have a shot at the heart’s glory — if our timing were just right.
Throughout the show, Lovett’s singing remained in its usual expressively hovering register, whereas Hiatt’s ditch-diggin’ voice almost struck its own wormy coffin and then soared with ravaged wails that almost pierced the crying sky bluesmen sing about. I felt sorry for the five (!) different people I’d asked to come along who couldn’t make it (Is it my e-odorant? My third eye?) I had won two tickets from WUWM radio. Well, me and my empty red seat, we soaked up a heapin’ helpin’ of folk-country-blues soul. So satisfied.

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