John Hiatt & The Combo
Barre Opera House, Barre VT 10.9.12
By Doug ColletteOctober 25, 2012
John Hiatt & The Combo played an absolutely blistering version of “Riding with the King” to conclude their set at the Barre Opera House. This take on a tune Eric Clapton recorded with BB King back in 2000 contained the fiercest playing of the set, which meandered in the early rounds, but grew imperceptibly more intense as its two and a half hours progressed. It was a far cry from his March 2010 visit to the Lebanon Opera House, where Hiatt and his original Combo lineup quickly came to a roar and continued at a thunderous pace all night.
This time Hiatt and company began leisurely, almost too casually, in mixing familiar songs like “Drive South” and “Crossing Muddy Waters.” It was only when Hiatt began to trade his acoustic guitars for a Fender electric that the vibrations from the stage grew in proportion to the volume.
One aspect that didn't change, from beginning to end, was the absolutely splendid guitar playing of Doug Lancio. Playing much of the night with a slide on both electric and acoustic instruments, he soloed from inside songs such as "Feels Like Rain," so that his musicianship matched the moody, soulful atmosphere of the song and Hiatt's impassioned singing.
Lancio is the constant that allows Hiatt to continue to call his accompanists The Combo, despite a lineup that has fundamentally changed. Nathan Geary is now in place of Patrick O’Hearn on bass and while he plays nimbly and assertively, he is not yet locked in with drummer Kenneth Blevins the way his predecessor was. Brandon Young’s backup vocals add depth to the sound on numbers like the aforementioned “Looks like Rain," but the additional texture he brings expands the band’s sound in such a way it begs for Hiatt to use the keyboards he usually reserves for his solo gigs to expand the sonic scope of the group even further.
The real stars of any John Hiatt show, however, are his songs and this tour stop reaffirmed just what a storied discography he’s created over the years, above and beyond the fame he garnered when Bonnie Raitt covered “Thing Called Love.” .