Last Night: Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt At The Grand

Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt The Grand 1894 Opera House, Galveston June 27, 2011

Coming soon to an Improv near you: The comedic stylings of Lyle & Hiatt!

Almost sounds like one of those old-time yukster duos, doesn't it? It certainly played out like that Monday night in The Island's Romanesque ex-movie house - Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello substituting songwriting for slapstick.

The two made a natural team, Lovett taking on the role of shy and stammering yet sly and incisive inquisitor, with Hiatt as the gruff but vulnerable curmudgeon. After Hiatt opened with "Tennessee Plates," which culminates with its joyriding hero stamping out aluminum tags in Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Lovett observed that the prison song is actually about the American Dream: "He drives off with the woman he loves... and winds up learning a trade."


"Let's see... a car song that involves criminal activity..." mused Lovett before answering with "L.A. County," his Tinseltown murder ballad co-starring a "cold steel .45."

Sandwiched around the banter and the duo's constant attempts to out-deadpan one another, then, was a good two-plus hours of some of the sharpest, most soulful songwriting of the past 25 years. The added comedic context gave the two men countless chances to illuminate their or the other's work, as when Hiatt recounted mentor and ex-bandmate Ry Cooder exclaiming "I'm playing 'Danny Boy'!" while recording the gorgeous "Lipstick Sunset," or playfully asking Lovett if "Private Conversation" was about "talking to yourself."

Lovett, for his part, was pleased as punch to be back home; Aftermath could have sworn we saw his ears redden when Hiatt hailed him as Texas' 2011 State Musician, but we can't be sure. He did pay tribute to everyone from his mother and "In My Own Mind" inspiration Uncle Calvin (who were both there) to former Channel 11 weatherman Sid Lasher, the Grand operators and citizens of Galveston for restoring the theater after Hurricane Ike, and just about everyone he ever saw at Anderson Fair; old friend and Galveston resident Denice Franke came out to help the duo cap off the evening on Lovett's "Closing Time."

A good many of Lovett's reflections came pouring out before "South Texas Girl," his melancholy waltz-time memories of riding around with his parents and handy pronunciation guide to Refugio and Palacios (featuring a cameo by Lasher). Lovett's mandolin-like strumming, about as high up on the neck of his guitar as he could go, brought the room to a church-like standstill - the recurring presence of "Mother Maria" in the song also helped - and prompted a response from Hiatt that was one of the few times neither of the two men had anything sarcastic to say.

"Just beautiful," Hiatt said, and that was all he said before shifting gears into the jaunty "Memphis In the Meantime," further endearing himself by mocking Kenny Chesney and giving a "haw-haw-haw-haw" like Billy Gibbons in "La Grange."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray