It’s not often that a stage gets a visit from two such respected names in music as Robert Cray and John Hiatt in one night, much less on the same bill, but that’s exactly what went down Thursday at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead, and we at The BluesPowR Blog were fortunate enough to be among those on hand to see it.
To say that there was greatness in the room on this night would be an understatement. With some eight-and-a-half decades of playing between them (Hiatt with a slight edge at 44 years, while Cray has dubbed his 2014 schedule a “groovin’ 4 decades” tour in celebration of the four decades since he and longtime bassist Richard Cousins formed the band in 1974), this was one of those shows you knew going into that there just wouldn’t be enough time to hear everything you wanted; in Cray’s case, that included such hits as the “Smoking Gun” and “Back Door Slam” that helped to make him famous, while for Hiatt, we were left needing to seek out mp3 versions of tracks like the “Child of the Wild Blue Yonder” that we used to spin on the air of our college radio station and the Buddy Guy-covered “Feels Like Rain” on the drive home in order to hear them this night.
That said, what we did get from these two guitarists was pretty damn phenomenal, with Cray’s band kicking off promptly at the scheduled 7:30 start time with his early hit “Phone Booth” to begin a set as tasty as, well, the juicy “Chicken in the Kitchen” about which Cray would crow a bit later in the night. But first came such other songs as “Poor Johnny”, the soulful, passionate vocals of “Right Next Door (Because of Me)”, and a few tracks from the band’s new album In My Soul in “Your Good Thing is About to End”, a “You Move Me” that moved the audience to its feet with its accelerated tempo ending, and the slow and quiet “I Was Fine Yesterday”, with Cray swapping guitars between nearly every song.
We’ve seen Cray a number of times now in recent years, but can’t recall him ever being as personable or in the zone as he was on this night, joking with the audience and other members of his band while introducing songs, asking the audience “You good?” several times throughout the program, and frequently injecting different guitar parts from what you hear on his recordings to keep things interesting, including, for example, some just barely audible notes on “Your Good Thing is About to End”.
Also included were a “(Won’t Be) Coming Home” featuring drummer Les Falconer on vocals, with Dover Weinberg’s organ also serving almost as another set of backing vocals, along with a gritty solo from Cray, who kept the same guitar for the greasy “Don’t You Even Care” that followed, before the band tore into “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” from the new album, with Falconer and Cray sharing lead vocals and Weinberg’s keys nicely substituting for the strong horns you hear on the recorded version of the song.
After slowing things down again with “I Can’t Fail”, the band moved into the slick grooves of “Chicken in the Kitchen” – with another couple of nice solos from Cray – and a folkish “What Would You Say” “brought to you by the blues hippies” that could easily rival any Crosby, Stills and Nash performance, then closing out the nearly 90-minute set with a Clapton-like “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)”.
Hiatt and his band (many of whom appear to be a bit younger than the four decades that Hiatt has been performing) began their rootsy set with an upbeat “My Business”, which served as a nice bridge between such Hiatt classics as “Tennessee Plates”, “Crossing Muddy Waters”, “Cry Love”, “Falling Up”, and the rocking “Master of Disaster”, and a collection of tracks from his new CD Terms of My Surrender (out next week) before getting to a tune popularized by Bonnie Raitt in “Thing Called Love”.
From there, Hiatt and co. took a bit more of a countryish road to arrive at “Memphis in the Meantime”, closing the set with the groove-filled “Slow Turning”. Returning to the stage for an encore, Hiatt observed that he’s probably having “more fun this year than any other year” of his career before ending the night on the oft-recorded “Have a Little Faith in Me” and a rocking “Riding with the King” that saw Hiatt and guitarist Doug Lancio trading some impressive licks.
Regardless of which of their hits they may or may not have gotten to play, there’s no question that Cray and Hiatt proved that they’ve both still got it when it comes to delivering one hell of a show.
To view more photos from the show, please visit our BluesPowR Gallery