About 30 years ago, I read a record review in Rolling Stone magazine of John Hiatt’s Slow Turning and was intrigued enough to go out and buy it without having heard a song – the one and only time actually that I have ever done that! I can’t remember exactly what intrigued me, although I vaguely remember that the review said that Hiatt had used the word somnambulist in one lyric (for Ride Along) and still made it work. So started a 30 year love of John Hiatt and his music. He has become one of my favorite artists, and Slow Turning would definitely be one of my Desert Island discs.
So I was beyond thrilled to find out (from Facebook of all places!) that he was touring with the Goners, his back up band on Slow Turning, to celebrate the album’s 30 anniversary, and that he would be coming through my area. Its been awhile since Hiatt has toured with a band- most of his concerts over the last 5 years or so have been solo acoustic, in line with his recent work.
The concert, at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, a beautiful historic theater (it opened in the 1920s) in downtown Frederick MD, began with a surprise (to me) – an “opening” five song set from Hiatt himself, on acoustic guitar. He opened with Perfectly Good Guitar from his 1993 album of the same name, which has the classic line “Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars, Smashing a perfectly good guitar.” The original Perfectly Good Guitar was loud and noisy, written to show his teenage son that he could still rock out, so hearing it acoustic was a jarring but effective contrast. The rest of the songs spanned his career from the late 1980’s to the present, including a new song, Cry to Me, off his forthcoming album, The Eclipse Sessions, coming out this fall.
After a short intermission, Hiatt returned with the Goners – David Ranson on bass and vocals, Kenneth Blevins on drums and vocals, and Sonny Landreth on electric and slide guitars and vocals. Landreth of course is an acclaimed guitarist in his own right, and so the phrase on the outside concert billboard that had said “Featuring Sonny Landreth” was no lie – his guitar work on these songs was fantastic, bringing them to life as if we were attending a live recording session of Slow Turning. I’ve heard many of these songs live before, but hearing them with Landreth (and Ranson and Blevins) playing took them to a different level.
As is usual for these types of album anniversary concerts, Hiatt and the Goners played the album straight through in order, with Hiatt telling some funny stories and anecdotes to introduce them. (As an aside, I had to laugh a few times when at several points someone in the audience would yell out a request for some other song from a different album – do you not understand the concept of this type of concert?? At one point even Hiatt himself had to say “You know on any other night we would play that song, but tonight we decided to play this album all the way through.”
As the band played the opening notes of Drive South, the first song on the album, it was thrilling to know that we were about to hear this classic collection of songs straight through live – songs which have been part of the soundtrack of my adult life. Every song was a highlight, of course, but I thought the band really kicked into gear on the 3rd song in, Tennessee Plates, a great example of Hiatt’s ability to tell a funny engaging story in a song with a twist at the end that brings it all together. Here’s some video of that song [disclaimer – all these videos are not from this concert but others on this tour; I decided not to video for several reasons – the theater setting made it hard to do without being disruptive to those around me, and the drunk jerk next to me was providing all the disruption needed as he was videoing every song and then loudly commenting on it – but that’s perhaps a topic for another post.)
Here’s Tennnessee Plates from the Boulder, Co stop (courtesy of YouTuber Bob Terwilliger):
As I mentioned, what made the concert really special was the slide guitar work of Sonny Landreth. He was really the (not so) secret weapon that made the concert so special. While I love all the songs on the album, some I love more than others. But Landreth’s playing made some of the other songs my new favorites. Here’s Ride Along from the Raleigh NC stop (courtesy YouTuber Ralph Berg; song starts at about 1:30 after band intros):
The highpoint of the concert (and the album) for me was of course Slow Turning, which has the classic line “Well I’m in the car, yeah I got the radio down, and I’m a’yelling at the kids in the back cause they’re banding like a’ Charlie Watts.” The song has spoken to me in different ways over the years, but its central message that life is a journey, a “slow turnin’ from the inside out” to love, satisfaction, and meaning in life, “not fade away, not fade away” has been something I’ve returned to time and time again through both the good and bad of life. Here’s some video from the Augusta GA show (courtesy YouTuber Greg Perry)
The last song I’d like to highlight is Is Anybody There?, a gospel influenced song that Hiatt performed on organ. He told a wonderful story about tuning into a Nashville station on Sunday nights when he was a kid to hear R&B and gospel songs that really influenced him, and he wrote this song with that in mind. Its message of searching and striving to be better, both in life and in love, has always been profound to me. Here’s some video from the tour stop in Amsterdam, Netherlands courtesy of YouTuber Jos Westenberg:
After completing the album song sequence with Feels Like Rain, Hiatt and the Goners came back for the encore. To highlight and give due to what Landreth added to these songs (and also perhaps to fulfill a contract arrangement?) the first song was Congo Square, a Landreth song that really allowed him to showcase his skills. Hiatt then played Have a Little Faith in Me solo at the organ (another favorite moment, as it was my wife and I’s wedding song), and the night concluded with the rollicking classic Memphis in the Meantime off Bring the Family, the acclaimed album that immediately preceded Slow Turning.
The Slow Turning 30th Anniversary tour has only 5 shows left with stops in NY and the Midwest. Hiatt will then be back in October touring solo behind his forthcoming record The Eclipse Sessions. Either with the Goners or solo, if you get the chance I would highly recommend trying to catch one of the best songwriters around!
Perfectly Good Guitar (solo acoustic)
Real Fine Love (solo acoustic)
Master of Disaster (solo acoustic)
Cry to Me (solo acoustic)
Aces Up Your Sleeve (solo acoustic)
Crossing Muddy Waters (solo acoustic)
Cry Love (solo acoustic)Drive South (with the Goners)
Trudy and Dave (with the Goners)
Tennessee Plates (with the Goners)
Icy Blue Heart (with the Goners)
Sometime Other Than Now (with the Goners)
Georgia Rae (with the Goners)
Ride Along (with the Goners)
Slow Turning (with the Goners)
It’ll Come to You (with the Goners)
Is Anybody There? (with the Goners)
Paper Thin (with the Goners)
Feels Like Rain (with the Goners)
Congo Square (Sonny Landreth)
Have A Little Faith In Me (solo at piano)
Memphis in Meantime (with the Goners)