Concert review: Lyle Lovett LIVE!
It was a unique experience seeing Lyle Lovett and his Acoustic Group perform in the acoustically impressive environment of the Mondavi Center. Despite the bop of bluegrass and the Texas toe-tapping tempo of many of the tunes, the audience remained — in contrast to my bobbing knees and drumming digits — unnaturally inert, except for a random shoutout every now and again. Even Lovett seemed slightly unnerved, tuning his guitar numerous times, and at one point, complimenting the exceptional sound, but adding, “The problem with a room like this is … you can hear!”
Lovett — with an ensemble that included drummer Russ Kunkel, Keith Sewell on guitar and vocals, Viktor Krauss on bass, Luke Bulla on fiddle, and cellist John Hagen, who has been performing with Lovett since 1979 — opened with the classic standard “Release Me,” also the title track from his latest album. This tour showcases the new recording, a studio album of cover songs he first became acquainted with as far back as the 70s, but may not have recorded until now.
Early in the evening’s lineup we heard a Michael Franks tune, “White Boy Lost in the Blues,” and later “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” — a song recorded by everyone from Chuck Berry to Buddy Holly to Waylon Jennings — and “Dress of Laces,” which he credited to a reclusive Texas musician who painted houses for a living. He also popped in a Buddy Holly tribute, “Well… All Right.”
Although I am a first-time Lyle Lovett concertgoer, I brought along a seasoned veteran, who noted that he seemed less chatty than during other appearances (she, too, was unsettled by the overall restraint of the room, and speculated it might have affected Lovett). At times, despite the aforementioned potential for clarity, he sounded a bit muddled behind the mic, particularly early in the evening, but he seemed to relax and hit his stride as the show progressed. At one point he shifted from newer music to play some bluegrass, which he confided was “the dark side of country music,” and set out to prove it with “[Keep It In Your] Pantry,” and a tongue-in-cheek speculation that singing bluegrass might just have been “a socially acceptable reason for men to stand in very close proximity.”
It was clear that the gentlemen in the band enjoyed an easy rapport, and an enormous talent individually and collectively. As they swung into older, more familiar haunts such as “This Old Porch” and “If I Had A Boat,” the crowd began to warm as well. Arnold McCuller, contributing his polar opposite presence and vocal styling from time to time, rounded out the small but always smooth and versatile ensemble.
After over two hours, the performance ended with a twang, with “White Freightliner Blues.” Following that, the group returned for an encore performance featuring “You Can’t Resist It,” which gave each artist an opportunity to take a turn as soloist — either a terrific chance to see the band at their best, or an anticlimactic and slow end to a show that had finally hit its stride; it’s a matter of opinion.
For more information: http://www.lylelovett.com and http://www.arnoldmcculler.com