Lyle Lovett and his ‘large band’

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
The Wellmont Theater,  Montclair, New Jersey
August 15, 2010

By Carol Anne Szel

I have to admit that I had little knowledge of what I was headed into when stepping inside this cavernous venue to hear this rock and roll cowboy’s show.  All I knew was that it was going to be large.

The house was packed and the stage was lined from side-to-side with mics and instruments and stands and it was apparent that this was going to be no simple night of music.  And when Lyle Lovett came center stage with openers “Sun and Moon and Stars” followed with “Whooping Crane,” two beautiful tunes that I can only liken to a touch stone of this Texas crooner’s vocal smooth crispness and inviting home-spun style.

Now flanked from left to right with an armful of the most highly sought-after musicians, Lovett took leave of the spotlight while he let this band of 14 shine.  Which they did, one by one.  The dueling electric guitar dance between Mitch Watkins and Ray Herndon made for a compelling riff dance, and along with Luke Bulla on fiddle, Keith Sewell on mandolin, Jim Cox on piano, James Golmer on percussion, and Buck Reid on steel guitar, the stage was jam packed with a blend of talent that was ran the gamut yet came together in a beautiful tapestry of sound.  Rounded out by reliable veteran drummer Russ Kunkel, legendary smooth-handed bass player Leland Sklar, and vocalist Arnold McCuller, all of whom are hot off the Carole King/James Taylor Troubadour Reunion Tour, this stage was absolutely sizzling.

Not taking any of the heat away from the main act, however.  Lyle Lovett came back on stage to reel in the crowd who had just been snatched up by the band, and launched into “It’s Rock and Roll” getting our attention with the gripping spoken intro followed by a real kicking tune.  The highlight of this song was hands-down the choreographed show within itself of background singers Harry Bowens, Willie Greene, Jr. and Sweet Pea Atkinson.  Suffice it to say that these three had the house swaying and dancing in their seats with their synchronized hip shaking, shoulder shaking and arm raising moves.

Lovett’s dead-pan humor stole the show, making this platinum plus record selling artist’s personality take a front seat to the songs at times.  Which is not putting the song’s worth at any less of a value, in fact his personality was a pleasant surprise to my first time experience delving into his music.

“Cute As A Bug” was a nice, light fiddle-laden tune during which Lovett really looked like he was enjoying himself, which held true to the consistent fun the crowd was having as they sang the lyrics and let out the occasional country style whooping and hollering during the show.

The tune “She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife” with the McCuller-injected scat in the middle, had the crowd singing along, yet the night was tempered with the touching story Lovett told of his passion for the American Quarter horse and his ancestry where his family in the 1800s rode on horseback to Texas to make a better life for themselves.

That led into an impassioned story of the making the song “Natural Forces,” inspired by the singer watching a football game a few years back and realizing that they troops fighting to make our world a better place were not able to enjoy the game as they sacrificed their years and sometimes lives. The song, especially following that story, left not a dry eye in the house.

Lovett huddled center stage with only Sklar on bass and Bulla on fiddle to hit some bluegrass tunes, and with the infectious tune “Pantry” commanded the rest of the band back on to the stage.  “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel” had the crowd on its feet, this time complete with its band farm animal sound affects, fiddle leading, barn raising, pure country sound.

By evening’s end, I was pleasantly surprised and as I watched the crowd file out with smiles on their faces as if to affirm that it was a buck well spent,  Lyle Lovett’s songs had lyrics you could really sink your teeth into.  A show full of fun and laced with tinges of nostalgia.  And was undeniably a fine evening of Americana at its best.

(©All Photos Carol Anne Szel 2010 Rights Reserved)

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