A rare mutual enthusiasm developed during this late winter/early spring night in New Hampshire while John Hiatt and The Combo played their extended single set. The group nurtured an exceptional bond of musical comradeship and community within the vintage Lebanon Opera House, the result of which was a palpable warmth in the room that had nothing to do with the temperature.
Guitarist/mandolier Doug Lancio, for instance, enjoyed himself to no end as he found innumerable ways, harmonic and otherwise, to blend blues with country into a song like "Crossing Muddy Waters." Very often his playing, with and without slide, effectively completed the emotional statement inherent in the tune. Because drummer Kenneth Blevins was rock solid with panache, bassist Patrick O’Hearn was never reticent about swooping up and around on the strings of his instrument, while Hiatt himself relaxed comfortably–and obviously with great relish, given his body language–into the role of rhythm guitarist in what is arguably a truly great band.
The setlist of the two and half hour show contained a wide range of material from the Hiatt discography , but the quartet’s musicianship took precedence over the selection of songs. Numbers from the just-released (that day), The Open Road, combined, tellingly, with a handful of numbers culled from Slow Turning, Hiatt’s recording with his former (and comparably superb) band The Goners; "Drive South," "Paper Thin" and "Tennessee Plates" radiated the humor and insight at which Hiatt excels, while the intensity of the sound echoed that of vintage Rolling Stones.
It was during "Have A Little Faith in Me," from Hiatt’s first great band collaboration, Bring the Family, however, where the songwriter’s kindred spirit touched the audience, who had come to hear Hiatt directly to them. Following the generally raucous din that preceded this well-deserved encore, these few quiet moments of John’s open sentiments went, to paraphrase Van Morrison, "straight to their hearts like a cannonball."