John Hiatt has been compared to artists ranging from Elvis Costello to John Prine during his lengthy career. At the Uptown Theater on Monday, Hiatt evoked an even more auspicious figure. With his bandy legs and dapper hat, Hiatt resembled present-day Bob Dylan.
Hiatt established himself as an elite Dylan-inspired songwriter in the ’70s. “Sure as I’m Sittin’ Here,” from his 1974 debut album, became a hit for Three Dog Night. With a large catalog of beloved material at his disposal, Hiatt might easily fall into predictable concerts that are as comforting as favorite old movies.
Hiatt and his band didn’t allow that to happen during their 100-minute set. Rather than faithfully replicating Hiatt’s original recordings, the band applied a loud and rough sensibility to familiar material. The romantic “Real Fine Love” was transformed into a scruffy dirge that could have been mistaken for Pearl Jam. “Drive South” was made over as a ramshackle blues shuffle.
The merits of the set list are debatable, but Hiatt made certain to include the two songs that have finally achieved the status of standards years after their initial releases. The weighty “Have a Little Faith in Me” has become a staple at wedding receptions. “Feels Like Rain” is one of the sexiest contributions to the singer/songwriter canon since Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.”
The exuberant existentialism of “Slow Turning” and “Tennessee Plates,” a rollicking song about an ill-fated crime spree, were no less memorable.
Although she’s a fixture at area clubs, opening act Samantha Fish was a revelation to many in the audience of about 500. Her formidable guitar skills, soaring voice and striking appearance led to a standing ovation, long lines at Fish’s concession stand and a sincere compliment from Hiatt. Fish is less than half of Hiatt’s 60 years.
“Sixty is the new 12,” Hiatt joked as he acknowledged last week’s milestone birthday. “And I’m living proof.”
The guilelessly juvenile dancing of Hiatt and his ecstatic fans during the deep groove of Monday’s closing song, “Riding With the King,” reinforced that fanciful notion.
|Bill Brownlee, Special to The Star
Setlist: Master of Disaster, Tennessee Plates, Real Fine Love, Down Around My Place, We’re Alright Now, Crossing Muddy Waters, Cry Love, Blues Can’t Even Find Me, Drive South, Perfectly Good Guitar, Feels Like Rain, Thing Called Love, Slow Turning, Memphis in the Meantime, Have a Little Faith in Me, Riding With the King