Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt had scarcely taken their seats upon the Bass Hall stage Monday, when the cry rang out: “Happy birthday!”
As they got settled, Hiatt asked, “When was your birthday?”
Lovett replied, “Yesterday.” (He turned 58 Sunday.)
That was all the encouragement Hiatt needed, as he turned to the audience, and led them in a spirited rendition of Happy Birthday, leaving a visibly touched Lovett to crack, “Thank you, and for any of you who may be worried, that does not count as John Hiatt’s first song.”
And with that, the long-time friends and collaborators were off and running, unspooling generous anecdotes, droll quips and one finely crafted song after another for more than two hours. (For those keeping score, the 63-year-old Hiatt’s actual first tune of the evening was the scorching blues of All the Way Under.)
Lovett, who just performed at Bass Hall with His Large Band a little over two months ago, and Hiatt have a collegial, rather than competitive, chemistry. Their deep, affectionate bond — the pair estimated Monday they’d known and performed with each other for the better part of a quarter century — is clearly reflected in the evening’s casual back and forth.
Each singer-songwriter would conjure a song, as the other relaxed back into his chair, although there were several times when Hiatt or Lovett would offer up backing vocals, guitar licks or, in Hiatt’s case, harmonica and whistle accompaniment.
The pair has played North Texas before (four years ago, at Dallas’ Meyerson Symphony Center), and this showcase felt a bit more relaxed, with plenty of observations about family, law-breaking, songwriting and even, at one point, a brief rumination on why Tom Wopat deliberately doesn’t shave near his mouth. (It’s ... a long story, albeit an amusing one.)
While the digressions were highly entertaining — Lovett and Hiatt banter like two life-long pals killing time on the porch as day slips into night — the music was what captivated the near-capacity audience.
Lovett loosens up a bit when he’s performing alone, digging deeper into the soulful, jazzy side of his wonderfully wooly style, or perhaps playing against Hiatt’s own deftly phrased and keenly felt country-blues sensibility simply draws it out of him.
Either way, Lovett reeled off plenty of gorgeous highlights: L.A. County, She’s No Lady, Fiona and Brown Eyed Handsome Man were aired out, while Hiatt shared gems of his own: Thing Called Love (which featured a ferocious call-and-response with Lovett), Tennessee Plates and Crossing Muddy Waters.
While it might have been near Lovett’s birthday, the audience was on the receiving end of the gift — an earthy, elegant evening spent mesmerized by two master craftsmen, sharing in their indelible songs and their unique camaraderie.