I thought we’d be seeing Lyle Lovett open for Vince Gill, and I expected two great shows. What we got was something completely different and much, much better: two very funny, smart, talented guys sitting around, swapping stories and songs. The simplest of concepts often turns out to be the best, and this evening with Lyle and Vince was no exception.
Gill apologized: “Sorry we’re late.” (The pair were scheduled for January, but were snowed out of the Northeast.) Lovett deadpanned “I’m the opening act, so I guess I’ll go first,” and started right in with his clever classic “Don’t Touch My Hat.” From there, the two traded stories and songs; Gill led off with a bluesy version of his and Gary Nicholson’s “One More Last Chance” that he said was inspired by George Jones.
Seated alone on a virtually empty stage, occasionally supporting one another on vocals and guitar, the two were both perfectly matched and perfectly unmatched: both men have a sly, self-deprecating humor and wonderful songs, but while Gill’s voice remains pure and ethereal, Lovett’s is cracked and scratchy. The juxtaposition of their sounds kept the audience alert the same way balancing ballads and up-tempo songs does.
Both men gave backstories for each of the songs. Gill frequently referred to his own high tenor voice, his father (“lawyer by trade, redneck by birth”) and his recent weight gain. (Lovett told Gill, “My band is better than your band.” Gill shot back, “But it costs you more to feed your band.”) Most often, however, Gill spoke lovingly of his wife, the singer Amy Grant, and their collaborations; at one point he choked up and needed to pause.
The highlight tune for me was Gill’s unrecorded song, “I Don’t Want to Ride the Rails No More,” a moving introspection punctuated by Gill’s world-class fingerpicking and his voice, which drifted upward to the heavenly vocals of his youth. When I get some spare time, I’ll mount a campaign to have him record it.
Both men dusted the show with their dry wit throughout the night: “You can’t say this is work with a straight face,” Gill said; “I make it look more difficult than you do,” Lovett responded. The evening reminded me of the Rat Pack, with pals Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra doing comedy and music and having a great time…they just happened to be on stage while the magic happened. From the department of “Be Careful What You Wish For,” this was not the show I had looked forward to—it was much better.