Now in their fourth decade as entertainers, country singer-songwriters Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt can sit back, relax and enjoy the adulation of their many fans. And that's exactly what they did Friday night at CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center.
Seated next to each other on a sparsely decorated stage, Lovett and Hiatt mostly took turns singing many of the hits they produced in long and respected careers. Between songs, they conversed like old friends at the neighborhood bar. Mostly, Lovett kept the small talk going while Hiatt supplied the endearing self-deprecating humor.
Hiatt opened the night with Train to Birmingham, a soulful ballad with a surprising origin. When his career brought him to Nashville, he explained, it was broadly suggested that he better have a train song in his repertoire.
And why, after moving to California in the mid-1970s, did Hiatt decide to relocate to Nashville? "The drinking age was 18," he told Lovett, only partly in jest."I left because I had burned every bridge," Hiatt added.
The audience in the sold-out theater enjoyed the banter but saved their sustained applause for the music.
"Thanks for coming to Northridge," yelled one man, moments after the country troubadours took the stage. "Thanks for having us," Hiatt called back. The duo had come close to getting a standing ovation before singing their first note.
Before the two-hour-plus set had ended, Lovett, 53, and Hiatt, 58, had performed a broad cross-section of their hits over time. Hiatt's numbers included The Open Road, Memphis in the Meantime, Drive South, Crossing Muddy Waters and last year's hit, The Open Road. He sang Have a Little Faith in Me for an encore.
Lovett's songs included Private Conversations, She's No Lady, If I Had a Boat and, together with Hiatt, Thing Called Love. For an encore, the Texas native sang My Baby Don't Tolerate, to which Hiatt added an instrumental solo.
Five years ago, Esquire summed up the secret of Lovett's success with three C's: class, charisma and consistency. Pretty much the same could also be said for Hiatt, as both country artists demonstrated Friday. Strumming acoustic guitars, they played each song with a vibrant freshness, squeezing from the lyrics all of the impact that was within.
Lovett and Hiatt, though they were friends since the 1980s, developed their careers independently, though you might not guess that if you had seen how comfortably and naturally they worked together, which they've been doing on occasion since 1989. At other times, Lovett demonstrates his versatility with Large Band tours as well as concerts with friends Guy Clark and Joe Ely.
Both Lovett and Hiatt established themselves not only as master musicians but experts at elevating the genre by performing songs that are at once sophisticated and primal. Their most playful songs are full of insight; their most familiar lyrics are particularly creative. In short, they are perfect complement to each other.