Throughout my childhood, I spent an undeterminable amount of time driving from here to there in my father’s forest green Ford Explorer. It was during this time that my musical preferences first began to take shape, as my dad had a static selection of albums that I was forced to listen to time and time again. Of course, there was the classic assortment of adult favorites: the Talking Head’s Stop Making Sense, Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True and Paul Simon’s Graceland. Besides these, my dad’s music taste seemed to deviate from the norm (read: The Phantom of the Opera). Finally, there was his brief foray into the country world with Lyle Lovett’s 1989 album Live in Texas.
At first, I was opposed to this Cosmo Kramer look alike, begging my dad to switch up the six-CD disk changer to something else. But as time wore on, Lovett’s unique Southern sound became one of my favorites, as his whimsical lyrics and wacky appearance kept me perpetually entertained.
So as I took my seat in the State Theatre last Wednesday night, I was extremely excited to see one of the musical icons from my childhood. Unlike me, the sold-out crowd had not grown up with Lyle Lovett, but had come to appreciate his musical talents later in life. Nevertheless, they shared my enthusiasm, and together we gave Lyle Lovett and his Large Band a rousing welcome back to Ithaca.
Lovett started his performance on stage with a few songs that he played on guitar with the band’s violinist, cellist and bassist. The quartet presented two of the new tacks off of Lovett’s newest album, Natural Forces, released on Oct. 20. Covering Vince Bell’s “Sun and Moon and Stars,” Lovett communicated his musical influences from the get-go. It is clear that the state of Texas and the singers and songwriters it produces especially inspire him. Following this up with “Whooping Crane,” the audience got a taste of Lovett’s newer musical numbers.
It was not until the full band took the stage that the singer’s quirky musical nature was finally showcased. Lovett’s Large Band consists of two electric guitars, a grand piano, two drum sets, a fiddle, a steel guitar, an upright base and a cello. Moreover, three extremely talented singers provide background vocals and synchronized dance moves throughout the performance. Together, all 14 performers, dressed uniformly in suits and ties, created a hefty musical experience.
With all of the musicians finally onstage, Lovett continued to play his newest songs. The high energy “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel,” complete with an assortment of squawking noises, sounded familiar and fun. The same can be said for “Bohemia,” a slow song with strong electric guitar rifts that is reminiscent of many Bonnie Raitt classics.
The crowd was supremely pleased when Lovett began to indulge us by playing some of his more popular tunes. Loyal fans sang along as Lovett performed “Here I Am,” a song consisting of a standard chorus sandwiched between the singer’s comedic monologues intended to express his true human nature. From admitting to reading the newspaper over strangers’ shoulders to reconsidering his order, asking his waitress to “make it a cheeseburger,” the crowd giggled with excitement as they heard familiar admissions recounted to them live on stage.
Other favorite songs included “If I Had a Boat” and “She’s No Lady.” Lovett’s classic country roots were on full display during “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” inciting toe tapping and head bopping from a majority of audience members. Reassured that “Texas wants you anyway,” the State Theater’s Southern party was in full swing.
Changing pace, Lovett and three other band members played a short bluegrass set. In just a few songs, the performer showcased his musical versatility, and highlighted his ability to infuse his country music with a plethora of other sounds.
After playing for two and a half hours, Lovett closed the show with a bang, performing “Church” with the full band onstage. Caught up in a never-ending church service, Lovett sang of his congregation’s hunger pains as the preacher forgets to let the church out for lunch. The audience followed the singers’ lead as they danced and sang along.
It was with this final gospel infused tune that Lovett bid us farewell. Won over by his Southern charm, Lyle Lovett’s Thursday night performance only reinforced my admiration for the singer’s musical stylings.