Being that he’s from Texas, Lyle Lovett described the sweltering, 90-degrees-at-7:45-p.m. temperatures as “cool weather.”
He and his Large Band were onstage at Huber Heights, Ohio’s, Rose Music Center and despite this declaration, the 15-piece ensemble opened the gig with the rompin’-stompin’ good times of “It’s a Naked Party.” They would later play the hilarious and funky “Pants is Overrated,” suggesting Lovett and company were’t exactly comfortable in their black formal wear.
Two songs in to what would be a two-hour, 45-minute marathon across the whole of American music, Lovett and his three backing singers vacated the stage, allowing the remaining 11 players – four pieces of brass; acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars; Jim Cox’s piano; Stuart Duncan’s violin; and the rhythm section of Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel, who employed sticks, brushes, mallets and his hands during the show – to strut their big-band stuff on “The Blues Walk,” the only instrumental of the evening.
Minutes later, with the Large Band fully intact, Lovett threw his head back and held notes for inhuman lengths on a purely country-and-western reading of “Stand by Your Man.”
And so it went as Lovett and his genre-bending band played comedic soul on “She’s No Lady,” ballroom balladry on “Are We Dancing,” blues on “Pig Meat Man,” gospel on the hand-clapping, choir-singing “Church” and virtually every other style of American music as ragtime, Dixieland, Texas swing, bluegrass and more popped up across the band’s many improvisational interludes.
They even covered Peter and Gordon’s “A World Without Love,” which Lovett, as Gordon, sung as a duet with Cox/Peter.
Lovett is a musical chameleon and a craftsman committed to quality. So, despite often playing small houses, selling fewer than half of the Rose’s 4,200 seats and proving on such tender ballads as “12th of June” and “The Queen of Know” that the core band is capable of breathtakingly gorgeous three- and four-part harmony, he spends heavily on salaries so fans may delight in his choir’s doo-wop-to-barbershop stylings.
Mostly leaving his humorous banter at home, Lovett instead dedicated his extra-musical time to speaking with his onstage compatriots and detailing their musical backgrounds. He repeatedly marveled at how lucky is is to play with them.
He is correct.
These are big-shot studio and touring musicians – and in the case of the horn section, college professors of music – and their execution was flawless. This is how steel-guitar comes to sound right at home inside big-band jazz. It’s the reason six-string, fiddle, steel and vocal showcases can fit inside a song like the swaggering “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” and not come off as self-indulgent. And it’s why the seven piece that performed the Chieftains’ arrangement of “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” packed the same wallop as the full ensemble that had the audience shaking it in the proverbial steam bath that was “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas).”
It was hot.
Both literally – but not to the ultra-cool Lovett – and figuratively.