Lyle Lovett & His Large Band
NYCB Theatre at Westbury
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 shortits 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 wantedan 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 Lealihe 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."
Lovett obviously has the utmost respect for his band members. He provided Bull a chance to shine his solo offering "The Temperance Reel." Sewell played "Traveler's Prayer" from his solo CD Let Me Fall
(Rubber Dog Records, 2013). Reed brought down the house with a rousing version of "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues." He also is loyal. He kidded with Hagen (who has been playing with Lovett since 1979). Again referencing the arena's unique layout, he asked the cello player, "What is the most challenging part of playing in the half-round?" Hagen looked at Lovett and deadpanned, "The lack of a buffer zone between you and me...no DMZ." Lovett paused for a full beat, then shook his head and simply stated, "1979, yeah...1979."
Following the good-natured exchange, the band launched full-bore into the whimsical "If I Had A Boat" (a song that speaks to the human existence on many levels), "Here I Am" with its gospel arrangement and amusing spoken word verses and "What Do You Do/The Glory Of Love" (a duet sung with Reed about the potential of infidelity).
The main set ended when Lovett led the band through the gospel-influenced (what else?) "Church," during which the crowd clapped along and at its culmination leapt to its feet for a standing ovation. Lovett said, "Thank you all for coming to see us." He then offered-up a nice version of the traditional folk tune "Texas River Song" and finally "Ain't No More Cain" with various band members singing its various passages. As the band wound its way through the set-ender (an instrumental similar to the set-opening instrumental) Lovett took a bow and left the stage leaving the band playing. At the end of the song, the audience exploded and gave another standing ovation.
After leaving the stage and waiting for the audience to work itself up just a tad more, the 14-piece ensemble returned to the stage for "She's No Lady" with its tongue-placed-firmly-in-cheek lyrics.
"She hates my mama, she hates my daddy too
She loves to tell me, she hates the things I do
She loves to lie beside me almost every night
She's no lady, she's my wife
The preacher asked her and she said, 'I do'
The preacher asked me, and she said, 'Yes, he does too'
And the preacher said, 'I pronounce you 99 to life
Son, she's no lady, she's your wife'"
The evening's festivities ended with a stellar take on Townes Van Zandt's up-tempo country-bluegrass shuffle, "White Freightliner Blues," originally released on 2012's (Lost Highway Records). As the band left the stage and the light came up, the audience members appeared completely satiated but drained as they had partied with all their might throughout the high-energy performance.