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John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett play for the sake of the song

Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 13, 2008

Reviewed by David McPherson

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For one night, to quote their brother in song - the late, great Townes Van Zandt - John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett sang "for the sake of the song."

Two songwriter's songwriters, a sparse stage and four trusty acoustics - that's all these acoustic amigos needed to wow a sold-out crowd of music lovers on a magical February evening.

The minimalist stage featured a black curtain, two chairs, two mics and a couple of extra guitars. When you have two strong storytellers, as the pair showed, there's no need for any distractions.

The two sauntered onto stage, one in denim (Hiatt) and one in black. What followed was more than two hours of the pair's finely-crafted, storied songs. Despite no intermission, few in the audience left their seats as Hiatt and Lovett played and played.

Casual conversations about everything from Elvis movies and turntables to Valentine's Day and the stories behind their songs were the subjects of witty banter between songs exchanged by the artists throughout the evening, drawing laughter and adding to the intimate affair.

Following a chat about an Elvis movie with Mary Tyler Moore Hiatt had watched that afternoon in his hotel room, the Indiana son opened the show with his classic "Tennessee Plates."

Lovett then offered "Skinny Legs" from his disc "I Love Everybody." From these two strong songs, the tone was set for the magic to come. After the Texan strummed the last chord, Hiatt applauded. This mutual admiration was apparent throughout the night as the songwriters shook hands often and shared smiles.

Hiatt took the opportunity to showcase some new songs, from his forthcoming album, scheduled for release in May. All were well received.

Lovett's "Fiona" was one of highlights of his set of songs, along with the barn-burnin' bluegrass stomp "Up In Indiana" and featured Hiatt singing and strumming along, adding some extra texture and harmony to this fine cut. This was later followed by equally classic country-blues of "She's No Lady," which prompted Hiatt to slyly remark, "That's one of my wife's favorite songs!"

The Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson was in attendance and Lovett dedicated the fun bluegrass double-entendre song "Keep It in Your Pantry" to his Canadian friend.

On the eve before Valentine's Day, Hiatt followed with the apropos song Bonnie Raitt made famous, "Thing Called Love" and the tender "Have a Little Faith in Me."

Since this night was all about the song, 150 minutes and several encores after this love-in for words and music began, Lovett and Hiatt appropriately finished the evening with a nod to fellow songwriter Jesse Winchester and his classic "Brand New Tennessee Waltz."

In a hustle and bustle world of BlackBerrys, the two-minute lunch and unused vacations, it was refreshing to see people get out of this frenetic space, sit back and lose themselves for a couple of hours in the treasured songs of these talented troubadours.