Concert Review: John Hiatt and the Combo, with Holly Williams, Arvada Center, CO 7/25/13
” I thought we were gonna make that bridge…what do I know? Me and my expectations was always high…” — John Hiatt, ” My Old Friend”
Surely Holly Williams’ granddaddy, country legend Hank Williams, knew something about high times, meeting expectations, and not quite “making that bridge” in life. Passing from this earth in the back of a Cadillac on the way to a gig at age 29, Hank burned his candle down at the height of his creative powers. As his skinny blonde granddaughter poured her heart out in songs about her legacy and the tortured marriage of her mother to Hank Williams, Jr., you couldn’t help but wonder how precious our time is with the gifted among us, and with those we love. With Hiatt, they’re one and the same.
Last year’s show at Arvada was the first time the ” Same Old Man ” seemed to show his age. A natty hat covered his thinning pate, and his voice seemed diminished. This summer’s addition of Costello glasses and a Gebippe ‘stache made him appear almost professorial, the cool English Composition teacher urging us to write from the heart. But his skipping moves and guileless grins quickly allayed any fears that Hiatt was ready for a rocking chair, and once the sound guys heard the crowd’s calls to boost his mike, it could have been 1993 and that great Austin City Limits DVD show with Michael Ward and the Guilty Dogs. The Combo has recorded and toured intact for a couple years, and is so attuned to John that they easily adjust to changes onstage and offer seamless support. With longtime drummer Kenneth Blevin in ” the engine room “, and the smooth noodling Pat O’Hearn on bass, the Combo never seemed to interfere with the delivery of the song narratives. Hiatt has drawn some hotshot guitarists over the years, from Ward to Sonny Landreth to Luther Dickinson, and there’s no slacking when Doug Lancio is featured on guitar, or on mandolin behind Hiatt’s vocals on ” Crossing Muddy Water”. Hiatt noted that song was played on tour ” back at the turn of the century”, and needled the Y2K ( remember that?) agonistes’ parade of horribles: “clocks stop working, time comes to an end, things on TV start to actually happen… oh wait, that did come true”!
When the tall, lanky Ms. Williams strode onstage in her Western hat and skinny jeans next to her hubby Chris Coleman, many in the crowd were still settling into their seats. She quickly launched into personal, emotive songs from her new CD, ” The Highway “, openly sharing vignettes about her parents and family that gave depth and perspective to the lyrics. The talented Mr. Coleman picked ably and added harmonies, but his wife is a force on her own, and her singing, songwriting, and clean guitar playing won over the audience. The Opening Act is a tough slot, and you rarely see genuine applause like that for anybody short of the headliner. Highlights included a poignant tribute to her maternal grandparents, ” Waitin’ On June “, and ” The Highway”, her ” love song to the road “.
Hiatt chose a set that began with ” Drive South”, ” My Old Friend”, ” Tennessee Plates”, and ” Cry Love”, and later moved to his recent CDs with ” We’re Alright Now” , ” Blues Can’t Even Find Me”, and a roaring guitar from Doug Lancio on ” Down Around My Place”. He slipped in one shouted request, ” Buffalo River Home”, after facetiously asking Lancio if he knew the longtime favorite with the universal lyrics: ” Just when you think you can let it rip, you’re pounding the pavement in your Daddy’s wingtips”. We can all relate! Hiatt stayed with that CD for the title track, ” Perfectly Good Guitar”, before a rousing version of ” Slow Turning” . And no Hiatt show is complete without ” Thing Called Love “, and a thank-you from John to Ms. Raitt for winning a Grammy with his song. Hiatt told of seeing Bonnie recently, and with a just-between-us-guys aside reminded us that ” she’s still hot”, adding: ” I always tell her, if you weren’t married, and I weren’t married…. we’d both be single” !
The encores were Hiatt classics: a rolling take on his typical closer, ” Have a Little Faith In Me”, and a funky ” Riding With the King”, the story of a chance encounter with Elvis that is often mistaken as a tribute to Riley B. King, who covered the song with Eric Clapton. To see Hiatt reveling in the same moments that bring his fans so much joy reminds us how fragile, dear, and precious are the times with those we love. May they always make us sing and dance !
” You’ve got kids, I’ve got kids, and they all want to know: Just what it was like when we were young? I tell ’em I’m no different now, I’m just late for the show. So grab your Aqualung; the loading has begun…” – John Hiatt, ” My Old Friend”
——– Your old friend and Mountain correspondent, Nanker Phledge