John Hiatt brought his own unique blend of country/ blues/ pop rock to St. Paul with his old backing band from the 1980's, The Goners, in support of his latest CD, The Tikki Bar is Open. John opened on acoustic guitar with "Drive South." John provided some great picking and straight from the heart, down-home vocals while Sonny Landreth added his unique, ethereal slide guitar. John alluded to the fact that he and The Goners had a lot of success and fun playing together before and it was time to get together again. The results had that same old magic as John and band worked their way through a number of songs from their new CD as well as many of their old hits.
On "The Tikki Bar is Open" John danced, sang lustily, and mugged for the crowd while playing his acoustic. Sonny Landreth played some incredible, ringing slide guitar to add depth and character to the song. It was obvious that John enjoys playing to a crowd and was having a great deal of fun playing with his old band. John interacted well with the crowd, commenting on playing St. Paul for the first time, playing at an all-girls college, and thanking the folks at The Electric Fetus for having him over the previous day to do an acoustic set and promote his new CD. On "I Know a Place," also from the new CD, John gave the crowd soaring, shouting vocals with his down-home inflection while Sonny played some expressive, fast fills.
John and The Goners followed up with energetic, inspired playing on "Memphis in the Meantime," "Riding with the King" and "Tennesee Plates." While John is a strong, emotional singer and also a talented instrumentalist, it is probably his incredible songwriting that stands out the most. He captures themes in his story- telling songs that come straight from the heart and have a visceral appeal to his listeners. This appeal, as well as the quality of his song crafting, probably explains why many of John's songs have been covered by other great musicians. And John seemed truly appreciative of this when thanking B.B. King and Eric Clapton for covering "Riding…," as well as the pleasure and learning experience of playing on B.B.'s Blues Tour this summer and fall with The King, Buddy Guy, and Tommy Castro.
Sonny Landreth added to the band's performance with his wild slide guitar. His combination of picking while using a slide gives his guitar licks a rippling, ringing quality where the last chords have yet to fade when the new ones flow into them. Alternately patting the strings, rubbing, chopping, or simply using his slide, Sonny put on an incredible display with a sound that was enthusiastically received by the crowd. His ability to hold, bend, or distort a note with his slide playing adds a nice counterpoint to John's emotional singing, rubber-legged dancing, mugging, and instrumental work on guitar and keyboard. Dave Ranson on bass and Kenneth Blevins on drums round out The Goners. Both are talented, veteran musicians who kept the groove solid all night.
After a long, loud standing ovation by the full crowd, John came out and did a wild solo on keyboard for an encore before doing a solo version of "Have a Little Faith." The Goners ran out and strapped it on again to give the standing, clapping crowd an enthusiastic performance of "A Thing Called Love." The crowd stayed standing and roared their approval as the band left the stage. A few minutes later Hiatt and The Goners gave the crowd the new song "Long Lost Love" from their last CD. With John on a hollow body electric, John's emotion- filled vocals, and Sonny's soaring slide, the crowd's enthusiasm continued unabated. After waving to the crowd and bowing in unison, the band left the stage a third time.
With the crowd still cheering loudly for more, Hiatt came out alone for a 3rd encore with his acoustic guitar. Accompanying himself, he put a quiet, emotional finish to the night's show with "She Broke Her Heart." This song conveyed all the pain and loss that the tragic events of September 11th wreaked on New York and the nation, while predicting with patriotic pride how the city and nation would rise up again. With a few words about the need for peace and the need to be together, especially in light of these events and the time of year, John left the stage for the last time to enthusiastic applause.
This review is copyright © 2002 by Rich Benson, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.