One of the finest songwriters in any genre returned to Capistrano for a sweltering set.
|John Hiatt at The Coach House on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. Photo: Kelly A. Swift|
Over the course of an exhilarating two hours Wednesday (Sept. 4, 2013) at the Coach House, veteran roots-rocker John Hiatt proved again and again why he continues to draw capacity crowds at that San Juan Capistrano spot and elsewhere, keeping the majority of an enthusiastic audience glued to their seats late into the night.
Although widespread commercial success has tragically eluded the 61-year-old singer-songwriter throughout his 40-year career, his striking songs, unique baritone rasp, wry wit and tireless work ethic have done wonders to build him a substantial and loyal following.
Backed by his terrific three-man combo plus a male backing vocalist, Hiatt led the crowd through a fast-paced set of his best-known material, gems from last year’s Mystic Pinball, and even a new song off an as-yet-untitled 24th album, due in February. Opening with the upbeat folk rocker "Drive South" before ratcheting things up further with the Southern-fried "Tennessee Plates," he and his troupe proceeded to skillfully craft Hiatt's genre-defying brand of rock, pop, country, blues, folk and other styles across 16 songs.
The show’s strength came through despite sweltering conditions inside the Coach House this night.
"It's unusually hot," Hiatt noted in a brief introduction to "Buffalo River Home," among his most outstanding performances here, abetted by one of many impressive turns from lead guitarist and mandolin player Doug Lancio. The song came rooted in folk yet had wallop enough to match any hard-rock attack.
Other classics gracefully delivered this time included "Cry Love" (with Hiatt powerfully sustaining a long note to end it), the timeless Americana of "Perfectly Good Guitar" and his swamp-boogie take on "Thing Called Love,” a hit for his friend Bonnie Raitt.
"Mystic Pinball” was touched on via several choice tracks, including "We're Alright Now," with Lancio adding strong slide asides, and the aptly titled "Blues Can't Even Find Me," an acoustic piece showcasing his love of traditional blues.
The encore found Hiatt leading off alone, strumming his guitar and singing one of his standards, the love song "Have a Little Faith in Me," the arrangement allowing his group to artfully build in stunning fashion. For the final tune, a 10-minute version of "Riding with the King," Lancio was allowed to shine on an extended break with a dazzling guitar solo that built to a pleasing roar.
Opening the show was alt-country quintet Rusty Truck, headed by singer-songwriter Mark Seliger. That name might ring a bell for longtime rock fans, as Seliger is a famous commercial photographer who has taken some of the most recognizable images appearing in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and GQ magazines over the past several decades, including a haunting image of the late Kurt Cobain taken in 1993.
To his credit, Seliger made no mention of his day job during Rusty Truck's 45-minute set at the Coach House. Instead, he and his outfit played a decidedly moody style of country with authenticity and heart, with highlights including the evocative "Anything to This World" and upbeat "Sister Maria." Seliger's admitted favorite song off the group's new disc, Kicker Town, is titled "Beautiful Pain" and featured artful two- and three-part harmonies. Consider me a new fan who hopes Rusty Truck will get a slot at Stagecoach next year.
Photos: Kelly A. Swift, for the Register