Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt: 22 January 2011 – New York

A “quality of direction” was the initial motif Saturday night at the ornate Beacon Theater. So said Lyle Lovett after his co-headliner John Hiatt finished opening with “Drive South.” Indeed, the next four songs all captured travel on the road, each singer alternating a solo performance. Given the two songwriters’ commonality, the format lent an air of reverence—which eased up between songs. Lovett’s frequent ex-post analysis of Hiatt’s lyrics provoked countless hilarious exchanges while exposing the quirky cohesion of phrases like, “She bring me coffee in her careless panties.”

Lovett’s singing consistently was consistently strong, particularly on “L.A. County” and “Fiona,” the latter prompting Hiatt to provide harmonies—something that occurred infrequently until the finale.

Though Lovett’s slower works remained solemn and serious (like “North Dakota”) he has a ridiculous yet empathetic sense of humor—singing about protecting his hat, not his girl, and a lady cyclops—that shines in concert. During “Fat Babies”, Lovett took a five-minute pause to explain the provenance of the song, doling out relationship advice along the way: “Not that you don’t already know this, but it’s far more important to hate the same things. Later, when cheers erupted after some random picking, Lovett quipped, “Thank you…What did you think I was going to play?” Two hours passed quickly.

Though Hiatt’s repertoire spans genres, proven by the breadth of artists covering his work (Willie Nelson, Paula Abdul, Mandy Moore, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Rick Nelson), he emphasized the blues in his own setlist. Solo, his leathered voice and barrel chest easily carried even the heavier numbers like “My Baby,” “Riding with the King,” and “Memphis in the Meantime.”

Hiatt saved one of his biggest hits, “Have a Little Faith in Me,” for his encore, then backed up Lovett on “My Baby Don’t Tolerate.” They traded verses on the only duet of the evening; Lovett’s arrangement of the traditional “Ain’t No More Cane.” The most powerful moment came when their idiosyncratic voices blended, ending in a cappella.