If Pearl Jam decided to play country and had a female lead singer from Nashville, they’d have sounded a lot like Lilly Hiatt’s opening set for Margo Price recently at the 9:30 Club.
The very definition of “alt-country,” Lilly’s music set the packed house on fire with crushing guitar licks, and the perfectly balanced sound levels made every word of her finely crafted lyrics crystal clear. Lilly’s was the rare set that allowed the audience to jam out while fully appreciating great songwriting.
Lilly’s writing gifts come as no surprise. Her father, singer-songwriter John Hiatt, who she sang about on the acoustic guitar-driven “Imposter,” is a Grammy Award nominee who received the Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting. Lilly’s vocal talents, however, far outstrip her father’s.
Like her father’s, Lilly’s work belongs to the broad family of Americana, but her palette of influences differs. Where John draws heavily from the blues, Lilly mixes country rhythms with alternative rock sounds descended from Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies. She wears these influences on her tattooed sleeves, with songs like “The Night David Bowie Died,” which you can find on her 2017 album, Trinity Lane.
Stream Trinity Lane by Lilly Hiatt on Bandcamp:
Raised on her father’s Nashville farm, Lilly now lives off of a street on the east side of the city, the subject of “Trinity Lane.” Lilly described Trinity Lane as a place “full of funky people who don’t have a lot, and we make it work.” Lilly told the audience that Margo Price, who she’s known for almost 10 years, also lives in East Nashville. Thursday night marked the first show of their New Year’s Eve shows together. She named “Tennessee Song” as her favorite of Margo’s.
The success of Trinity Lane allowed Lilly to become a full-time musician this year. A deeply personal album, many of the songs, like “All Kinds of People,” “See Ya Later,” and “Everything I Had,” concern relationships. “Jesus Would Have Let Me Pick the Restaurant,” from her second album, 2015’s Royal Blue, is “about a little twerp I dated who tried to push the Bible in my face. Not because I think the Bible is bad; I just don’t want it shoved in my face.”
Introducing “I Wanna Go Home,” Lilly mentioned her approval of legal pot in the District. The song, she said, was written after she bought legal pot in Denver. “I flipped out,” she said, “because I ate too much.”
Some of Hiatt’s songs, like, “Records” celebrate the power of music to heal and comfort. In the chorus she sings, “that record waited up for me.” DC had to wait to almost the end of 2018 to see what Lilly Hiatt could do with a full band, but it was worth the wait.
Here are some photos of Lilly Hiatt performing at 9:30 Club on Dec. 27, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Matt Ruppert.