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Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury

Mike Perciaccante By

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Lyle Lovett & His Large Band
NYCB Theatre at Westbury
Westbury, NY
August 17, 2014

In the quarter century plus since his debut in 1986, Lyle Lovett has taken his place as one of the most original and unique singer/songwriters of his, or for that matter any, generation. His lyrics are smart, insightful, witty, literate, sardonic and eclectic covering a myriad of topics from his home state of Texas, to love, to loss, to yearning, to life and to death. The multi-layered music, that serves as both a vehicle for and a catalyst to propel his lyrics, is at once joyous and sad, traditional and visionary. Many have categorize his musical styling as country. That is just not the case. It is impossible to place Lovett into just one genre. Sure...his music touches on country. It also fuses together elements of bluegrass, swing, folk, jazz, blues, rock, gospel, alt-country and pop. He pushes musical boundaries. In short—its best described as Americana.

On a very pleasant Sunday Evening In Mid-August, after his large band, which featured all the male members dressed in suits and ties as well as Francine Reed his back-up vocalist decked out to the nines opened with a nice instrumental number. As the musical interlude ended, Lovett, who was wearing a slate grey suit and light checkered tie, was ushered onto the stage at the intimate NYCB Theatre at Westbury. The crowd was thrilled at the sight of the slender, rail-thin musician as evidenced by the standing ovation that he was accorded all before he had even strapped his guitar over his shoulder. uttered a single word or sung a single note. Though the anticipation was high, Lovett and his cohorts more than met the audiences expectations with a stellar two-and-a-half hours of dour humorous lyrics with sinister undertones and soulful, unique and unforgettable vocals layered over exciting, exhilarating and often raucous music.

His first song was a very pretty cover of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" which was quickly followed by "Cowboy Man." Lovett is often self-deprecating and very droll. He would have been right at home during the days of Vaudeville. He has a wry sense of humor and on this evening he wasted no time in displaying his sense of the absurd. Following "Cowboy Man," the musician stepped forward and with a Cheshire cat grin on his face announced, "I can't remember if we played here since the stage stopped spinning. I miss it. It's nice to be here. How beautiful is the August weather here. In Texas, we call it winter." On cue, drummer Russ Kunkel immediately delivered a well-timed rim shot.

Playing in the half-round (the NYCB Theatre's stage is in the center of the arena and can be configured to rotate), the truly large band (13 members plus Lovett) brought its Long Island fans exactly what they wanted—an evening of country-flavored Americana accentuated by Lovett's sly humor and augmented by the superb musicianship and harmonies supplied by his band (Kunkel, Ray Herndon on guitar, bassist Viktor Krauss, Jim Cox on Piano, Chad Willis on trumpet, Harvey Thompson on tenor sax, saxophonist Brad Leali, Keith Sewell on acoustic guitar, Charles Rose on Trombone, cellist John Hagen, Luke Bulla on fiddle and Buck Reid on steel guitar) and powerhouse back-up singer, Reed. The set list was chock full of Lovett's classic and best-loved songs including: the rave-up "Cute as a Bug," the jazzy and bluesy "She's Hot To Go," the breezy "LA County," the cynical "God Will," "My Baby Don't Tolerate," "Long Tall Texan," "Private Conversation," "North Dakota" and the plaintive ballad "Nobody Knows Me."

"I've Been to Memphis" was introduced as being a "song about a lot of places." Between the songs, Lovett bantered with members of his band and with audience members. When he introduced the band, he brought a smile to the faces of the audience members and a bit of a blush to that of Leali by stating that the sax-man was "Professor Brad Leali—he really is a professor of sax at North Texas. It would be a great nickname, but he really is a professor." "San Antonio Girl" followed. The lighthearted and sly ode to the Lone Star State "That's Right (You're Not from Texas)" from the Grammy Award-winning The Road to Ensenada (Curb/MCA, 1996) got the crowd onto its feet and into the aisles to dance and juke around the arena. He slowed it down a bit with "I Know You Know" but immediately picked it back up again with the Boogie-woogie twanger "The Truck Song."

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