LIVE: Lyle Lovett & His Acoustic Group @ The Egg, 11/5/14
Review by Richard Brody
Lyle Lovett & His Acoustic Group returned to The Egg’s Hart Theatre earlier this month for what seems to be an annual visit. With no new music to promote, Lyle dug into his nearly 30-year songbook and treated us to more than two hours of great songs and stories backed by his all-star band – with fiddler extraordinaire Stuart Duncan in tow. Not one to get fenced in by a single genre, you can hear country, bluegrass, folk, blues, gospel, Texas swing, and with master cellist and long-time band member John Hagen, hints of classical music in the performances of Lovett’s songs.
Lovett and band, all nattily attired in dark suits, showed their wares beginning with the second song, and first full band song, of the evening “Here I Am.” The unaccompanied verses spoken in a halting deadpan tone with the full band coming in on the chorus tells the tale of that guy who sits down beside someone at the diner and won’t leave the person alone. On the one hand anyone would want to get away from this intruder, but on the other you just might want to stick around to hear what comes out of his mouth next. It’s pure Lyle: dark humor bordering on spooky, unexpected lyrical lines, and an off-beat performance that makes perfect sense.
The evening was not just about Lovett. The songs came alive with the band’s playing that featured star session man Russ Kunkel on drums, the rock solid Viktor Krauss on bass, Keith Sewell (a singer-songwriter himself) on mandolin, guitar and vocals, as well as the aforementioned Duncan and Hagen. Lovett gives his band plenty of room to show their skills and as master musicians their playing was always in service of the song. There were numerous examples including: the blistering “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” driven by Duncan’s solo, the playfully jazzy “Penguins” choreographed with the entire band doing the penguin shuffle and the swingin’ “Cowboy Man.”
There were also the well-received ballads. “If I Had a Boat” was preceded by Lovett thanking his parents who sacrificed so much so that he could pursue whatever dreams he might have. He introduced “LA County” by letting us know that it had made Rolling Stone’s list of Top 10 Creepiest Country Murder Ballads of all time. And the sublime “Front Porch Song” that was co-written by Robert Earl Keen. Mr. Keen started writing the song by using the front porch as a metaphor for a changing Texas town, and Lovett finished by illuminating the relationship that Keen had with the owner of that front porch. And it was on this porch that Keen and Lovett met and played music together for the first time.
Lovett, who mentioned that he was born in ’57 and recently turned 57 years old – “happens only once in your life,” he noted – was regaled late in the evening by an audience chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Maybe it was our on-key singing that brought Lovett and band back to encore with a smokin’-hot version of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues,” that was anchored by Kunkel and Krauss and augmented by Sewell and Duncan’s solos before the evening ended with one of Lovett’s own compositions “You Can’t Resist It.”
It was a great, great evening of classic Lyle and his fabulous band…
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “From there the group was off and running, delighting the crowd in the nearly-full theatre with a two-and-a-half-hour set that offered fiddle-fueled favorite ‘Cowboy Man,’ the quirky jazz-flavored ‘Penguins,’ the sophisticated swing of ‘I’ve Been to Memphis,’ redemption tale ‘I Will Rise Up,’ Texan-pride rave-up ‘That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),’ trucker anthem ‘The Truck Song’ and a handful of sparse, raw-sounding ballads: ‘Nobody Knows Me,’ ‘If I Had a Boat,’ creepy murder ballad ‘L.A. County’ and the sublimely tender ‘North Dakota.’ Throughout, band members traded impeccable solos that never felt excessive, but played off each other’s parts in a highly skilled, collective way. Lovett, dressed in a sharp, fitted suit, displayed his consummate charm and wit, thanking the fan who wished him a happy 57th (his birthday was Nov. 1). He also complimented the region’s scenic fall foliage and The Egg’s pristine sound. ‘You can hear so well in here it’s sort of scary,’ he said.”