It’s fitting that Lyle Lovett is from Texas, because the singer/songwriter – born and raised in Klein, just south of Houston – put on a show Wednesday night at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House that was reminiscent of a barbecue.
Even more apropos, it was served up East Texas-style, all spare ribs and a lot of sweet, thick sauce. For this nearly three-hour event, there was no opener, and Lovett brought His Acoustic Band rather than His Large Band, which meant lean arrangements stripped down to the bone, spiced with the laconic Lovett’s trademark wry wisecracks and pithy tales from the road. For a man of few words, he’s funny as hell.
There’s one place where Lovett always lays it on thick, though, and that’s his lavish praise for his people: Keith Sewell on mandolin and acoustic guitar; fiddler Luke Bulla; bassist Viktor Krauss; and drummer Russ Kunkel. The five of them managed to produce the sound of many, a multilayered series of songs that pulled not only from Lovett’s extensive menu, but other talented musicians and songwriters, including Buddy Holly, whose “Well Alright” got a twangier, hipper treatment, and an almost wistful version of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” And while I’ve always thought Townes Van Zandt was best when it was just him and a guitar, it was hard to argue against Lovett & Co. on “White Freight Liner Blues,” which found everyone on stage driving the song along until it hit a manic, finger-picking peak.
The only downside of the night was that some of the gravy – that lush fiddling, the intricate mandolin work – was sometimes lost to the stage. Lovett himself looked out at one point and declared, “This is how being inside the stomach of a pumpkin must feel, with little spots of indigestion.”
Toward the end, Kunkel bowed out to let the quartet come in tight at the front to do some pluckin’ and a’strummin’, which, added to inspired vocal harmonies, led to a series of bluegrass jams that almost had the genteel crowd out of its seats. Following that up with some Lovett favorites – the crowd-pleasing “If I Had a Boat,” the foot-stomping “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” and a beautiful “North Dakota,” followed by an extended fiddle extravaganza for “You Can’t Resist It,” finished the night off right.
Finger-pickin’ good to the end.
Babes in the Woods
Girl with the Holiday Smile
Choke My Chicken
Here I Am
The Truck Song
She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife
Well Alright (Buddy Holly)
I Will Rise Up/Ain’t No More Cane
Cute as a Bug
My Baby Don’t Tolerate
She’s Already Made Up Her Mind
Friend of the Devil (Grateful Dead)
Don’t Touch My Hat
Texas Trilogy (Dan McCrimmon, Steven Fromholz)
More Pretty Girls Than One
I’ll Come Knockin’
Keep It in Your Pantry
Up in Indiana
If I Had a Boat
That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas)
You Can’t Resist It
Kyle Wagner is a regular contributor to Reverb and travel editor at The Denver Post.
Evan Semón is a Denver freelance writer and photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work.