John Hiatt’s been playing around town so much lately he could probably rent a room here (he’s made at least four local appearances in the last 16 months.) That and the lousy weather were likely what kept so many folks away from Hiatt’s Tuesday show at Wolf Trap. Their loss.
Hiatt never let the specter of emptiness inside and outside the amphitheater kill his buzz from being in front of a crowd, any crowd. He persuaded those fans that did show up to go along with a wacky three-part sing-a-long on “Memphis In the Meantime.” He smiled and pumped his leg like a jackhammer while leading his backing trio, which he’s dubbed The Combo, through the fabulously rocky crime caper, “Tennessee Plates.”
Hiatt took advantage of the low-pressure setting to tell tales about some of his old songs. He got nostalgic about 1995 – “We had more of everything!” he said – before giving his all to “Cry Love,” a tune he wrote that year. During that song and several others, folks with the right vantage point could see a guitar tech/roadie standing backstage behind a curtain singingthe chorus into a microphone. Given the evening’s laid-back vibe, the guy should have just joined the band onstage. Before “Slow Turning,” he recalled writing his first songs on a $32 Stella guitar his mother got him.
And he introduced “Damn This Town,” a tune from his 20th and latest record, “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns,” as being about a “creep” who lived next door and spent all his days sitting on the porch letting the world know he was angry. Hiatt should have invited the neighbor to this show. It’s impossible to stay mad while watching Hiatt work, and there was plenty of room