On the surface, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt have little in common. Lovett, an understated and powder-dry Texan, can break your heart or make you laugh. Indianapolis native Hiatt writes rootsy rock with a garage band edge and sings with a nasal howl that brings out his discontent and makes it relatable.
What they share is this: They're both exceptional songwriters and, despite decades of acclaim, neither has achieved close to the commercial success he deserves.
They displayed those differences and similarities in glorious form Saturday night at the Murat Theatre, where, equipped with just acoustic guitars, they traded the spotlight and took the opportunity to showcase their talents.
For two-plus hours and 24 songs, they swapped family stories — Hiatt sang "Seven Little Indians," a tribute to his storytelling dad; Lovett followed with "South Texas Girl," an ode to car trips with his parents — as well as songs about trying to get a little nookie and being, to use Hiatt's phrase, "masters of disaster."
They performed fan favorites — Hiatt had a great time with "Thing Called Love" and "Memphis in the Meantime"; Lovett did the same with "She's No Lady" and "If I Had a Boat" — and each offered stirring renditions of several of their songs. Lovett's best moment was his gorgeous, crystalline rendition of "North Dakota," while Hiatt showed off his storytelling chops with "Trudy and Dave."
And between songs, they cracked wise. Hiatt's Murat debut allowed him to marvel at the building and "what men with funny hats and little cars can accomplish." Lovett joked that he came up during the "New Country Scare of 1985." After Lovett sang "Don't Touch My Hat" ("You can have my girl/but don't touch my hat"), Hiatt said, "I think your priorities are in order too." Responded Lovett: "It really depends on the hat."
Some of their patter sounded rehearsed, but clearly they knew where they were. Hiatt said when he left Indianapolis in 1971, he was basically "shown the edge of town." Lovett recalled his Indianapolis shows from years past, including at Starlight Musicals. (He was too polite to mention that, as an opening act, he blew Rickie Lee Jones off the stage.)
For most of the evening, the between-song patter was their only interaction. Lovett added a little backing vocal to "Cry Love" and Hiatt played lead guitar on "She's No Lady," but generally they just sat back, listening and appreciating the other's well-crafted lyrics and riffs.
But late in the set, starting with Lovett's "One-Eyed Fiona," they started to work together in earnest, adding vocals and, in Hiatt's case, guitar, to each other's songs. Surprisingly, their voices, which are nothing alike, sounded right together. Well, given their talents, maybe that's not so surprising.