Big Head Todd and The Monsters, John Hiatt & The Combo
Friday, Nov. 18 at Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
Theatre at Old National Centre
Indy's native son John Hiatt
Hiattand his band, The Combo, rocked the sixth-annual WTTS Rock to
Read show (benefiting Indianapolis Marion County Public Library
Marion County Public Libraryand children's reading programs) in
front of a lively crowd Friday night.
Stepping onstage wearing a wide-brimmed fedora and matching
Hiatt's second time playing the Murat Theatre this year (which he said
his dad always thought was a "big whoop-de-doo"), and after his February acoustic performance with Lyle Lovett, the engaged crowd was ready to see him kick out the jams.
Electric guitar in hand, the homegrown Hoosier
treasure treated the set as somewhat of a 'best-of' show and showed love to Indianapolis and his friends. Before "Master of Disaster,"
Hiatt recalled how Jim Dickinson - Memphis musician, producer and father of the North
Mississippi Allstars' Luther and Cody - requested one thing to be put on
his tombstone: "I'm not gone, I'm just dead."
Though he didn't joke as much at this show as he did with just
Lovett onstage, Hiatt genuinely enjoyed himself, even during serious
tunes like his hit "Cry Love," a mandolin-lover's dream during which, in this iteration, the instrument fought Hiatt's voice and guitar and was plucked more forcefully than necessary by The Combo's lead guitarist.
The evening wasn't all classic Hiatt hits. The Combo infused funk in "All the Way Under," from Hiatt's latest album, Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns - which is amazingly, if my math is correct, his 20th studio album.
Hiatt's a veteran performer and a master songwriter, evidenced by the first song he played in his encore, "Have a Little Faith in Me." Sure, the wedding favorite (I'm guilty of including it in my reception playlist) is syrupy as all get-out.
But it's simply a classic song, hard to hate once it starts playing
and made that much more powerful by Hiatt's consistently passionate performance in spite of probably having played it hundreds of times.
Hiatt himself was terrific, but his crew was sometimes distracting. The aforementioned loud mandolin was
tuned by a guy standing in a spotlight at far stage right throughout
the show, which was rather confusing - why did the lead
guitarist have an assistant onstage at all times, while Hiatt's help
came on stage only when necessary, between songs? Regardless, this quibble didn't detract from Hiatt's performance.
Big Head Todd and The Monsters opened the evening by playing it safe for the at-first sparse crowd.
Todd Park Mohr's slightly gravelly, rounded vocals sounded like a
young Hiatt, and though the band was super-tight, they seemed a bit
uptight compared to the more laid-back Hiatt. The funk- and soul-tinged
"Tower" was perhaps the band's loosest moment, but it still sounded
like a too-well-rehearsed tune with little room for the random elements
of performance that bring memorable moments to polished recorded tunes.
And it was somewhat regrettable that the band chose to cover King Floyd's "Groove Me," a song so sublimely perfect in its original incarnation that, done by pretty much anyone else, sounds flat and soulless.
Perhaps it was because of the coloring-within-the-lines feel of
their "Groove Me" cover, but the band's massively overplayed radio
staple "It's Alright"
was surprisingly refreshing. Unfortunate, then, that uninspired guitar
theatrics in later songs - and another unfortunate cover (this time John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom") - didn't help the band elevate beyond what it's best at: so-polished-it's-often-dull music exemplified by songs like "Bittersweet." Which, unsurprisingly, they played flawlessly, to a fault.