photos by Glenn Cook
Lilly Hiatt wears her heart on her sleeve. But at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington, D.C., it was the sleeve that seemed a little heavy, not the heart. Hiatt came onstage with a Rainbow t-shirt that was cut across the top and draped over her left arm like a blouse. Perhaps the weight of the cloth hanging over her left hand caused her to frequently lean back. In repose Hiatt frequently arched her back and struck a pose that made me think of Jimmy Page.
Hiatt is a rock and roll apostle in a day and age when the genre seems like it belongs on an endangered species list. With her long black curls dangling down to her eyes and enveloping her face, it wasn’t a hard stretch to imagine Hiatt showing up for an audition for the Ramones.
Perhaps that’s why someone couldn’t resist calling out “Records,” one of the many seminal moments on her autobiographical Trinity Lane. Hiatt urged everyone to be patient but by set’s end she cried out to the rock gods with her declaration “Mr. Young your work is never done” before lead guitarist John Condit unleashed a furious solo to underscore the point.
Hiatt let Condit do most of the heavy lifting. While strumming her iconic black Richenbacher, he slashed through the pivotal moments of “Trinity Lene” and “The Night David Bowie Died” and a new song that made Hiatt’s four-piece band sound like Crazy Horse re-incarnated.
The two opened up the show with a Prince-like guitar collage of the atmospheric chords that paid tribute to Prince and marked the year of Purple Rain, the year of her birth she describes in “So Much You Don’t Know About Me”
With cherry blossoms in full bloom, the singer related that several trees were threatened to be cut down in East Nashville, the locale she’s resided in for the past six years and that provided Inspiration for “Trinity Lane” and the universality of what you call home. “There’s a Trinity Lane everywhere,” she mused.
The singer noted this was the third or fourth time she’s been in the area recalling shows with Margo Price and Justin Earle. On a recent visit to the capital, she came across a street musician playing “Amazing Grace” on saxophone. Whether or not it had a direct influence, Hiatt introduced a new song called Move.” “Musicians,” she reflected. “We’re good at that.” Another new song “Candy Lunch” was an infectious, pop gem and song of empowerment in its Dylan-esque groove. (Note to New West Records: we can’t wait for the single.)
It’s been two years since she released Trinity Lane, her breakout album. Without mentioning the name of her dad, Hiatt strapped on her acoustic guitar and payed homage to the man she said gave her advice whether she liked it or not. Hiatt stopped herself from going on perhaps sub-consciously realizing she’d laid out what seemed like her entire life history in one song.
Hiatt was a great host with a friendliness that made her feel like an old friend. “Did you all have a good weekend?” Her soft spoken demeanor can be self-deprecating, admitting she’s failed trying to deliver a profound monologue before “Everything I Had.” Hiatt later called herself out for having too many California references in her song but no one was complaining when she sang the emotional tour de force “Sucker” and early career signature song “Somebody’s Daughter.”
Hiatt and band (which also included the just right understated rhythm section Kate Haldrup on drums and Robert Hudson on bass) exuded small-ensemble confidence on “Off Track” and the suspenseful guitar interplay of “Rotterdam.” When Hiatt delved back into “People Don’t Change,” it was a song she noted she wrote in her mid-twenties. Maybe it seemed like a lifetime ago, a prequel of sorts to present day. But when Hiatt’s eyes closed, she had a wide smile as she sang against the Stonesy-“Dead Flowers” groove, perhaps the satisfaction of all the hard work and realization of how far she’s come as a songwriter and bandleader.
Karen Jonas who opened the show straddles genres that like Lilly Hiatt make it hard to pigeonhole. Jonas told the story about how she was once interviewed and asked how long she had liked country music. “You gotta get your heart broken a few times to understand country music,” he said trying to be insightful. Jonas, who admitted she wasn’t a proponent of the genre, wrote “Country Songs” in response. She also took inspiration for “Butter” from an offhand line one of her four children said in the family kitchen Jonas also pondered the fate of Ophelia, the Shakespearean character. “Maybe she could have talked to another guy,” she mused.
Relatively subdued through the night, Jonas and her four-piece seemed like another band when they went into a thunderous out of nowhere cover of Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me In The Morning.” With guitarist Tim Bray leading the charge, Jonas just cut loose spouting off one Line after another. “I feel like that old hound dog,” she exclaimed and we felt it too.