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Music review

Sharing stories, trading songs

John Hiatt (left) and Lyle Lovett kept an easy camaraderie going through the night. John Hiatt (left) and Lyle Lovett kept an easy camaraderie going through the night. (Photos by John Bohn/Globe Staff)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / October 25, 2008
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Hanging out with two people who are old friends can be awkward. As they reminisce about old times or discuss shared friends and hobbies, a third party can feel left out.

That sense of exclusion was completely absent from the joint John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett performance at the Opera House Wednesday night. Over a superlative 2 1/2-hour set that featured nearly as much banter as music, the kindred spirits jawed a bit about their early days, experiences with Bonnie Raitt, and the gratification of making music for music's sake.

There was an ease to the proceedings as the pair took turns singing and each man would sit back and reverently soak in his partner's songs. The night seemed especially significant because it was the last show of the tour and the mutual admiration society was in full bloom. The sit-down, acoustic song swap exuded a living-room coziness. Infrequently, that coziness tipped over into the place where you might find yourself dozing on the couch.

Each man was in terrific voice, Lovett offering humor in his smooth croon on tunes like "She's No Lady" and "Keep It in Your Pantry" and shades of melancholy on burnished downers like "North Dakota." Hiatt's weather-beaten growl remains impressively expressive. He was equally affecting on the cheeky blues amble "Riding With the King" as the poignant examination of long-term love "Same Old Man."

In between songs, as they tuned their guitars, Lovett especially kept the collegial vibe going, peppering Hiatt with questions that would arise from the subjects of the songs: Do you look more like your mom or dad? (Both.) Did you ever own a Cadillac? (Sort of.) Why did you start playing guitar? (To get girls.)

If Lovett ever decides to hang up his guitar, he'd make an excellent talk-show host as his sincere curiosity, intent listening, and positively arid wit were as much weapons in his arsenal as his clever songs. His queries made it easy to believe him when he said to Hiatt, "I learn something new about you every day."

Hiatt kept pace with snappy rejoinders and a touch of whimsical exasperation as they segued from tune to tune linked by topic - such as transportation for Hiatt's "Thunderbird" into Lovett's "If I Had a Boat" - or mood. Those ranged widely from raucous (Hiatt's "Thing Called Love") to melancholy (their duet on the traditional folk tune "Ain't No More Cane").

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.

MUSIC REVIEW

JOHN HIATT AND LYLE LOVETT At: the Opera House,

Wednesday

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