Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt: a masterful Savannah Music Festival performance

Sometimes when I see legendary performers for the first time, I’m let down a little. They don’t seem to be bringing it all, they seem past their prime, they seem to be relying on their long histories to ensure their fans stay enraptured.

Well none of that happened last night at Trustees Theater here in Savannah, where John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett put on as good a show as two guys with guitars possibly can.

If anything, the passing of time — Lovett is 54, Hiatt 59 — has given their voices and faces an extra charge of immediacy and passion.

In my preview of the show for the Savannah Morning News, I noted that Lovett had been doing a number of covers on this current tour (the pair have performed together periodically since 1989), but last night was nothing but originals as the two men traded off playing songs for almost two and a half hours — with no intermission. In a tweet to a fan a few days ago, Lovett noted that they don’t even plan the set beforehand. So the show had a wonderfully organic, spontaneous feel — and that was true of both the banter between songs and the songs themselves.

So Lovett’s “L.A. County” (“And the lights of L.A. County / Look like diamonds in the sky”) was even better since it followed Hiatt’s “The Open Road”:

The open road where the hopeless come
To see if hope still runs
One by one they bring their broke down loads
And leave ‘em where the hobo dreams are stowed
Out on the open road
Out on the open road

And why not have Lovett’s whimsical and strange “Fiona” — which Hiatt backed powerfully on both guitar and vocals — followed by Hiatt’s hit “Thing Called Love”?

Hiatt’s choices last night tended to the themes of the road and passionate struggles; Lovett’s to the peculiarities of love and desire.

I’ve been a huge fan of Lovett for years, but now I’m more of a fan — and I’ll be listening to Hiatt a lot more than ever before. I think his live renditions sounded better than any recordings I’d heard. And Lovett’s work seemed much wittier than in the studio versions — the comic structure of songs like “Her First Mistake”, “The Girl with the Holiday Smile”, and “Creeps Like Me” had the audience laughing out loud.

My companion for the evening whispered at one point that the chatter between songs was like “the Smothers Brothers lite”. We found out that Lovett calls the Lutheran Church’s Missouri Synod “Mo’ Sin”, that Lovett actually remembered the names of fans he met before the show while eating grits and collards at the Olde Pink House, that Hiatt has fond memories of playing regularly at the regrettably defunct Night Flight here in Savannah, that L.A. isn’t humid enough for Lovett, and that Hiatt doesn’t think he looks good enough shirtless to emulate Iggy Pop — and on and on.

And if that sounds like a lot of talk, I guess it could have been to some in the audience, especially if they couldn’t quite catch all the subtle asides. (I didn’t have that problem at all since we were in the front row — I’m constantly amazed how easy it is to score row A tickets in this town.) But the interplay between songs was revealing, and it was clear throughout the evening that the two men have great respect and affection for each other.

All in all, a glorious night.

Here’s the set list. If anyone spots an error in song titles or thinks I may have missed something, please let me know:

Set list for “An Acoustic Evening with Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt” at the Savannah Music Festival on March 24th, 2012:

  • John: “Lift Up Every Stone”
  • Lyle: “I Will Rise Up/ Ain’t No More Cane”
  • John: “Adios to California”
  • Lyle: “The Road to Ensenada”
  • John: “All the Way Under”
  • Lyle: “Good Intentions”
  • John: “Smashing a Perfectly Good Guitar”
  • Lyle: “Creeps Like Me”
  • John: “The Open Road”
  • Lyle: “L.A. County”
  • John: “Icy Blue Heart”
  • Lyle: “The Girl with the Holiday Smile”
  • John: “Tennessee Plates”
  • Lyle: “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”
  • John: “Crossing Muddy Waters”
  • Lyle: “One Way Gal”
  • John: “Walk On”
  • Lyle: “Her First Mistake”
  • John: “Drive South”
  • Lyle: “Fiona”
  • John: “Thing Called Love”
  • Lyle: “If I Had a Boat”


  • John: “Have a Little Faith in Me”
  • Lyle: “She’s No Lady”

UPDATE: Someone (not me or anyone I know!) posted these YouTube videos of the encores. Shaky but the sound isn’t half bad, given the technology: