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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Barbican, London
October 22nd 2007

Did I ever tell you Serge, that I was once taken to what I can only describe as a counterfeit hotel? It was in China – a Haiyatt hotel – not to be confused of course (and I’m sure it wasn’t) with a Hyatt hotel. I’d also observe that the whisky they served in their KTV bar was certainly not to be confused with Johnnie Walker Black Label. This is all a long way round to saying that there’s certainly nothing phoney about John Hiatt. Here’s an artist who really wears his heart on his sleeve – warts (and there have been quite a few of those in his turbulent career) and all. And he’s particularly exposed tonight as he’s as unplugged as any artist can be when they are alone on stage with only their cables, trailing from a succession of mouth-watering Gibson acoustics, for company.

John Hiatt
Now I’ll tell the truth. I’m short of time. In a hurry. Too many reviews to write. So I’m going to keep this short. Because he simply was quite awesome. Charming and engaging (“Well” he said, surveying an almost full Barbican auditorium, “Well, this is a fancy place. What the hell are we doing here?”), warm and humorous in his reminiscences (“We were lower middle class … well, my father was a gambler, so when he was up we were upper middle class …) he had in the audience in his grasp from the opening bars of ‘Drive south’, accompanied by his wonderfully rattly Gibson jumbo. He occasionally complained of forgetfulness as he stumbled over a few of his lyrics (“Man” he said by way of explanation, “when I was young I really did some damage”) but for the most part was word and note perfect (in case you’re not aware, Mr Hiatt can truly sing as if blessed by the gods) – and his guitar playing was hugely accomplished – the way he filled the stage and the theatre reminding me of Roddy Frame’s excellent gig at the Bush a couple of years ago.
John Hiatt
Hiatt has songs a-plenty to sing for us. Some – ‘I just want to go on with you’ and ‘Thank you’ (get a sense of some spiritual contentment here?) are new, in the course of being recorded for a forthcoming album. Then there are classics from his collaborations with Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder such as ‘Thing called love’ (apparently he’s still benefiting from the royalties accrued from Bonnie Raitt’s cover version) in which he notably rhymes “Queen of Sheba” with “amoeba”.
And a litany of his top tunes – including - ‘Tennessee plates’ (accompanied by an anecdote about stealing cars – “Shit – I can’t believe I was so stupid as to do that”), ‘Riding with the King’, ‘Memphis in the meantime’, the astonishingly powerful ‘Have a little faith in me’ (sung at the keyboard), ‘Lipstick sunset’ (more shades of Nick Lowe) and from his latest album, the eponymous ‘Master of disaster’. They’re all great songs, but none so moving as the deeply autobiographical ‘Crossing muddy waters’
Hiatt. Fake? Phoney? Not a bit of it. Music simply doesn’t get more brutally honest than this. As the critics would say – “a triumph”. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate, cartoon Jeff Mallett)
Kate's John Hiatt photo album

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