Guy Clark was back in Nashville with the stomach flu, and we all wished him well and were disappointed that he wasn't in Birmingham. But his mates made the best of it.
Who knew that Hiatt was such a damn fine guitar player? Brilliant songwriter, of course. Utterly distinctive, passionate, and witty vocal stylist -- it goes without saying. But the only time I've seen him live was last summer and he had Luther Dickinson playing guitar for him. Who cares what Hiatt was doing on that baby blue Strat when you've got Luther to listen to?
But last night, when the Songwriter's Tour came to the Alabama Theater, it was Hiatt's guitar playing that was the standout of a standout show. He's got a great loping rhythm style on that Gibson SJ-200, but he played wonderful lead lines all night long as well. He'd break out into something in the middle of his, or one of the others', songs and he'd get real serious as he was burning up and down the neck. He'd hit that last note of his solo and his whole body would rear back... the audience would roar and he'd look out at 'em with the expression on his face -- what're you all doing here? And then he'd burst into a huge grin.
Lyle Lovett & Joe Ely came along, and the three of them sat on straight-backed chairs and took turns picking songs out of their vast catalogs. As Ely & Lovett both found opportunities to point out, they do this with no set lists, no plan -- each one figures out what he's going to play based on what the guy before him played, and what coincidences that tickled.
So when Hiatt's first turn came, he was thinking about the Daytona 500 that had just run that day, and how Mark Martin had come just this close to winning, and that put him in mind of a song he wrote coming home from Daytona one time twenty years ago... Lovett followed that thought up, and dedicated one to the aforementioned Mark Martin -- "Let's have a hand for that young cowboy.... and wish him better luck next time...." The night was like that. After every song, the audience would start shouting out suggestions to the next singer -- "Oh, yeah," said Lyle, quickly taking the capo back off. "Thanks for asking for that one..." And off he went.
I've seen Lovett several times, and Hiatt that once -- but seeing Joe Ely was a real treat. He's never pursued that "career" the way the other guys have. Likes to stick close to home (but has a book and two CDs coming out this week.) So his guitar playing & his singing were the most rudimentary of the three (rudimentary -- as in, when I'm having a really good day, I can almost play like that...), such wonderful songs!!
Lovett was actually a bit of a surprise in that he didn't do more with his guitar playing. He had on those damn fingerpicks that he always uses, but he did very little picking. When he's with the large band, you don't notice that he's really just a great rhythm player. He loves putting the capo way up -- ninth, tenth frets -- to get the high ringing sound.
Three guitar players, three different guitars -- three completely different styles. So I learned a bit from each of 'em last night.