Lyle Lovett is not so much the lead singer or frontman of his Large Band, though he is clearly both. Above all, Lyle is the host of the show. Gracious, loquacious, urbane and charming, Lovett warmly embraces his audience, welcoming you into his world to meet the friends in his band and share his heartfelt love and appreciation of writing and performing music. Generally, that could be said of many or most performers. But few, if any, do it quite like Lovett.
The set list is an informal guide leaving wide berth to go with the flow of the evening. On this particular evening, Tammy Wynette’s country standard, “Stand By Your Man,” opened the more than 30-song set, perfectly setting the tone for the Lovett brand, at once wry and sincere. I couldn’t help but recall how the Blues Brothers chose that very tune to win over the die-hard country fans before revealing their true musical identities.
Lovett’s country identity has blossomed to incorporate his own distinct blend of western big band swing, folk, rock, blues and gospel. He is a modern traditionalist. His live shows as well have evolved into his own “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s longstanding radio variety show that was itself rooted in the Grand Ole Opry but featured a wide musical spectrum. Like Keillor, Lovett is a storyteller, whether speaking or singing. And each show, including this great evening, includes performances from and conversations with his musical on-stage family – all sounding as fresh and spontaneous as if it were the first time they’d all gathered to do it.
Large Band mates Keith Sewell (guitars and mandolin), Luke Bulla (violin), Buck Reid (pedal steel) and Francine Reed (vocals) all shared the spotlight backed by the ever steady and percussively named Russ Kunkel and a buttery sweet horn section. But the host with the most remains the quietly charismatic Lyle Lovett who flawlessly navigated “The Road to Ensenada” from Texas (“Cowboy Man,” “Texas River Song,”) to Memphis (“I’ve Been to Memphis”) to LA (“LA County”), North Dakota (“North Dakota”) and back (“San Antonio Girl,” “That’s Right You’re Not From Texas”) in a voice that can be coy, sardonic, fragile and joyous – sometimes within the same song.
Lyle Lovett seems a buoyant introvert rescued by music and dedicated to saving others by sharing his remedy. On both occasions I’ve seen him perform, he succeeded brilliantly.
– Derek Meade
All photos by Derek Meade