POP MUSIC / Big daddy: Jasper Rees forsakes the World Cup for John Hiatt at the Clapham Grand

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The Independent Online
The jury is still out on American enthusiasm for football, but it obviously doesn't appeal to most of the country's great fortysomething singer-songwriters. Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and now John Hiatt have high-tailed to these shores within days of one another, plainly realising that this is the one place where tours won't be disrupted by the stay-at-home-and-watch- the-national-team factor.

Hiatt, like Raitt, long ago returned from the black hole of addiction to unburden himself of a brilliant trilogy of post-detox albums. While he'll never recover the 300lbs he apparently carried as a 12-year-old, nowadays the lugubrious gauntness about the jowls has been replaced by a healthy hint of chub. At the Clapham Grand we were introduced to a man who, having surrendered his twenties to amnesia, seems determined to replicate them in as loud a manner as possible.

Hence the Guilty Dawgs, a magnificent guitar, bass and drums trio who are young and rowdy enough to be Hiatt's wayward offspring. Hiatt has always assembled great bands to suit his needs - slide guitarist Sonny Landreth had everyone comparing him with Ry Cooder - and the Dawgs are perfectly good for performing Perfectly Good Guitar, his latest, rockiest album. There were eight songs from the album, including 'Permanent Hurt', 'Straight Outta Time', 'Something Wild' and 'Blue Telescope', but the highlight was a leering 'The Wreck of the Barbie Ferrari', in which a wacko father shoots his daughter's doll's vehicle - one of those disturbingly honest metaphors for family breakdown that probably disqualify Hiatt from world domination in the commercial sector. Even if his young daughter loves it.

Hiatt's waggish repartee between songs like this and 'Just Like Your Daddy Did' and the heartbleeding 'Have a Little Faith in Me', performed solo on a mini-keyboard, reveal a father no longer prone to insecurity and self-questioning. The 'American Costello' tag has never looked less accurate.

The show's frenzied excellence overwhelmed Hiatt's audience from start to finish. A chuntering 'Memphis in the Meantime' showcased Michael Urbano on drums, 'Lipstick Sunset' offered superb slide guitar from the extravagantly bald Mike Ward, and just about every song told you what a brilliant singer Hiatt manages to be despite significant technical shortcomings. 'Slow Turning' and Little Village's 'Thing Called Love' are perfect vehicles for his declamatory style, but 'Feels Like Rain', the last song of the second encore, proved that Hiatt could make a decent second living as a slow-burning blues singer. But bluesmen aren't meant to be so blatantly happy.

(Photograph omitted)

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