I’ll be honest. I expected Lyle Lovett and His Large Band to put on a good show. But I also expected it to be an exact replica of the gospel-heavy show they performed at Deer Valley last year. I was right on the first count, and very, very wrong on the second. Lovett walked onto Red Butte’s stage, “Hello,” he announced, “I’m the guy who sits next to you and reads the newspaper over your shoulder.” Of course, this was not banter. It is the opening lyrics to “Here I am,” a spoken-word song and fan favorite.
And from then on, he—and co-vocalist powerhouse, Francine Reed—had the crowd’s attention. Lovett set was long, covering Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” and plenty of his own songs, “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” “I Know You Know I’m So In Love With You,” “She’s No Lady” and “If I Had Boat.” All with ample opportunities to let everyone in the Large Band shine, including Ms. Reed in her trademark “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” fiddler Luke Bulla’s “Temperance Reel,” and, towards the end of the show, a healthy dose of gospel—assisted by Salt Lake’s own Unity Gospel Choir.
And there’s the contradiction of Lyle Lovett. Who is he? Is he the guy who belts out heartfelt lyrics like the ones in “Nobody Knows Me Like My Baby,” or the tongue-in-cheek bluegrass tune “Pantry”—or the guy belting out the rollicking and rocking cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues”—or is he all of the above? And if he’s all of the above, how is he so damn good at all of it?
Make no mistake, a Lyle Lovett show is flawless. Players exit and reenter the stage from built-in breaks seamlessly, as if the Labor Department was watching. And within the set, Lovett makes it a point to introduce each band member. And, yes, if we’re asking how Lovett is so good at bending genres and transcending labels, the same must be asked about His Large Band.
I’ve been guilty of giving a band a bad review for being too smooth—I value grit and realness in my performers, and when I don’t find that in a live act, I walk away disappointed. But this, it seems, is what really sets Lovett and crew apart. Yes, the show is a well-run machine. No, they don’t make mistakes (Last night they even took some fairly major sound issues in stride). But they are genuine in the execution and in their connection with the crowd (ask Kim in the front row if you don’t believe me).
And I guess that’s why, even when I thought I was going to see the same show I saw last year, I still lined up at the Red Butte gates. And, honestly, that’s also why I’m really not surprised they brought a brand new show. It seems that Mr. Lovett was made to be on stage—perhaps that’s the next ballad he should write.
photos by Stuart Graves