It doesn’t happen for everyone, but some artists just get better with age, and John Hiatt is one of those. Not that it helped him sell out the HMV Ritz as part of the first Blues Fest to reach up here to Manchester, sadly, but those who did attend were treated to a fine display from one of the most underrated musicians around.
Heartland rock has never been particularly popular over here (except when done by Bruce Springsteen of course), so that might explain why the Ritz was probably just over half-full, as might the fact that the Blues Fest that it forms part of is very much in its infancy outside of London. Whatever the reason, Hiatt didn’t let it dent his enthusiasm, and nor did it affect the response he got back from the crowd.
He’s in a rich vein of form at the moment, with last year’s Dirty Jeans And Mudslide Hymns following from 2010′s The Open Road, both excellent records that showcase his phenomenal songwriting and also his voice, which has gained so much character with age. In the course of the show he announced that he’s got another record coming out later this year, which is remarkably prolific for an artist who’ll turn 60 this year.
A lot of the best songs came from Dirty Jeans, including the brooding and explosive Down Around My Place and the atmospheric Damn This Town, both tracks that would have critics drooling if they were recorded by someone half Hiatt’s age. With his talented band, The Combo, when he kicks into rockin’ gear, he sounds like he’s half his age, especially helped by the virtuoso skills of guitarist Doug Lancio.
It’s not all new material of course, and old favourites like Thing Called Love, Drive South, Tennessee Plates and Memphis In The Meantime, all of which went down great with the fans, not least the couple who were clearly there to represent Manchester’s no-doubt-burgeoning solo line-dancing scene. The encore showed Hiatt’s versatility, with a wonderful solo acoustic performance followed by signature tune Have A Little Faith In Me, followed by an incendiary finale of Running With The King (as covered by Eric Clapton and B.B. King), which saw Lancio in full-on shred mode.
John Hiatt may not be a household name in this country, nor an artist who can draw a big enough crowd to fill The Ritz, but there’s more to life than those things. The small-but-dedicated fans who helped get Blues Fest Manchester off to a crackling start know that and Hiatt knows that himself, and he must also know that he’s on fire at the moment, hence the new album on its way already. If it’s as good as his last one, we’ll hopefully see him back in town again very soon, and that would be a date worth keeping, because this was a wonderful night of quality music.
Days Go By seems like an appropriate title for The Offspring's first album in four years (especially given the five-year gap before that one), which has been in the works since 2009. That kind of convoluted gestation period usually spells trouble, so it's not a great surprise that it's a bit hit and miss.