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Lilly Hiatt, Nells Jazz & Blues, London live review

A tight set packed full of songs that showed off her skills as a lyricist and fantastic vocal range.

Lilly Hiatt
Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Since releasing her debut solo album Let Down in 2012, Lilly Hiatt – daughter of legendary singer-songwriter John – has been quietly building a name for herself with her sharp, observational lyrics and folky guitar riffs. In February 2018 she released her third album, Trinity Lane (named after the area of Nashville she lived in whilst writing the record), in the UK, and has been travelling the length and breadth of the country on tour to promote it.

Hiatt arrived on stage to an enthusiastic reception and launched into an acoustic solo version of Championship Fighter, the opening track from her debut album. It’s a sparse, simple song which highlights the folky aspect to her sound, as well as the drawl and rich tone in her voice which reminded me a little of Jewel. She then brought her bandmates Robert and John (the latter of whom got his own solo moment later in the set when he performed the Radiohead-esque Be On) on stage for the rest of the performance, starting with the twangy, upbeat All Kinds Of People.

The set ranged across songs from Hiatt’s three albums as well as a couple of covers, notably her wistful take on Tom Petty’s Time To Move On. Amongst the highlights were the sassy Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick The Restaurant with its playful AC/DC references, the Western swing-influenced Young Black Rose and the lightness of touch on Three Days. I particularly loved all the little details in the lyrics, like the references to garlic cooking on the driving, rocky Trinity Lane and drinking cherry schnapps in Denver on the melodic, downbeat So Much You Don’t Know, which made the scenes and characters stand out really well. Additionally, Hiatt’s guitar playing was very impressive throughout, notably her rapid strumming on the fast, sharp-tongued Mean, and she regularly broke off to chat and joke with the audience (including stories about playing in Austin with her band when she was younger, her favourite British foods and the quirks of hotel bathrooms).

There were a lot of standout tracks for me, but what linked them all together was Hiatt’s strong vocals. She was able to switch effortlessly between styles, whether that was showing her sweeter side on the melancholy Sucker, soulful touches on Somebody’s Daughter or richer, warmer tones on Imposter. I was also wowed by how much emotion she packed into the songs, particularly on the atmospheric The Night David Bowie Died. Hiatt showed great control as she delivered the raw lyrics and anthemic chorus and really captured the song’s sense of regret.

Hiatt closed her set with Records, an ode to the power of music with a driving rhythm and self-deprecating lyrics. The song highlighted the gravelly edge to her voice and she hit some seriously impressive high notes as she jammed out with her band. After demands for an encore, she returned to the stage alone to play the gentle, introspective Different I Guess and her bluesy spin on John Prine’s classic Angel From Montgomery.

Overall Hiatt pulled off a tight set packed full of songs which showed off her skills as a lyricist and fantastic vocal range. She struck a great balance between 70s folk and 90s alternative rock and looked like she was having the time of her life on stage. It was clear she’d won over plenty of new fans as well as wowing some old ones, and I predict that next time she’s back in the UK she’ll be playing to much bigger crowds. If you haven’t seen her live yet, make sure you grab a ticket next time – you’re in for an entertaining evening!

 

Set list: 1. Championship Fighter 2. All Kinds Of People 3. Young Black Rose 4. I Wanna Go Home 5. Trinity Lane 6. Imposter 7. Everything I Had 8. Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick The Restaurant 9. Rotterdam 10. Three Days 11. Somebody’s Daughter 12. The Night David Bowie Died 13. Time To Move On (Tom Petty cover) 14. Be On 15. Sucker 16. Machine 17. So Much You Don’t Know 18. Records 19. Different, I Guess 20. Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover) Performance date: 25th April 2018

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