Combo brings out Hiatt’s screaming-loud inner rocker

John Hiatt sure loves his new band: the Combo. On Thursday at The Egg, they unleashed his inner rock

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For Gazette music writer Michael Hochanadel’s preview of this show, click here.

John Hiatt sure loves his new band: the Combo. On Thursday at The Egg, they unleashed his inner rocker. That leg-kicking, riff-blasting, falsetto-screaming, extra-loud extrovert may not have been far below the surface in half a decade of relatively quiet, introspective solo shows here, but it sure was big fun to see him kick out the jams in a full-on blast.

A driving “Drive South” took the show on the road and after the fairly recent “On With You” and “Crossing Muddy Waters,” Hiatt shifted to new tunes with “The Open Road,” title track of the album he released on Tuesday.

He kept rolling with its blue highways road map through “My Baby” about a painfully ambivalent love for someone “so beautiful she hurt my feelings” that climaxed with a desperate staccato stutter. Then the stretched groove of (the also new) “What Kind of Man” hit with such energy that Hiatt exclaimed “Wow!”

If introspective songs of decay and death dominated Hiatt’s solo shows, he shoved these themes right off the road with “Movin’ On,” introducing it by reciting his late friend Jim Dickinson’s tombstone: “I’m Not Gone; I’m Just Dead.”

Hiatt seemed determined to prove he was neither, rejuvenated by the Combo and delighted with the rock ’n’ roll dust they raised, taking requests and grinning ear to ear. So did drummer Kenneth Blevins throughout the two-hour show, while Doug Lancio, like Tom Petty’s guitarist Mike Campbell, blasted conventional riffs with such strength and confidence that they felt original and fresh. It became hard to separate Blevins’ kick drum from Patrick O’Hearne’s bass.

“Paper Thin” and “Tiki Bar,” the latter a request, rocked the house hard, and acceding to requests deleted some slow love songs from the end of the set. But there was no resisting the highway roll of “Master of Disaster,” which took the energy of the rollicking “Tennessee Plates” into overdrive.

The vintage “Riding With the King” was a perfect encore — the last mile of a hot-rod rock ’n’ roll show whose road songs carried along everybody in the nearly sold-out house, wide eyed and happy, chasing Hiatt’s taillights.

Holly Williams — granddaughter of Hank, daughter of Hank “Bocephus” Jr. — showed off almost as much voice as Jennifer Nettles (Sugarland), and ambitions aimed in the same direction. She started bravely alone, singing strongly, with a strategic crack she overused some, but when husband/guitarist Chris Goldman joined her on lead guitar, harmonies and an impressive harmonica solo in “I Hold On,” it showed that pedigree and context aren’t the same thing, and her short opening set gathered depth as well as strength.

Her voice sounded too young and strong for the weary, resigned opening line of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” — “I am an old woman” — but it fit well the big emotions behind her original songs. She closed strongly with “Mama” — a tribute to hers for hiding the bitterness of her parents’ divorce from her — and “Without Jesus Here With Me” about a near-fatal car crash in 2006. She has clearly recovered to powerful effect.

Categories: Entertainment

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