Lyle Lovett and His Large Band Live (how’s that for aLLiteration?)

My parents and I drive to BigCity, NC to see Lyle Lovett and His Large Band at the fancy auditorium for a pretty penny. It is our family night on the town as a toast for a good school year for all of us (me the MFA student, my parents the middle school teachers). I’ve always been told that Lyle is an amazing performer and I enjoy his music. Though his songs have never enticed me into obsession over chords, lyrics, or the musician’s personal history, I have respect for “old country,” fine musicians who compose all of their own work, and legendary performers. Given all of this, Lyle seemed like a safe bet.

And safe bet, it turns out, only puts it mildly. I walked away from the two-and-half-hour long show with empirical evidence that no man on the face of the earth can walk, talk, or sing it like Lyle can. He starts the set off slowly, a narrow tube of white stage light filtering through the auditorium into a small moon circle that highlights Lyle and his guitar. The sound is immaculate; crystal clear. A celloist sits off to Lyle’s right and they open with a sweet lullaby, Lyle-style all the way. For the next song a mandolin player glides onto stage almost unnoticeably, plucking gently on the strings in the background. The sound is watery, uncharacteristic of the tight-high-pitched instrument, blending in with the other two strings seamlessly.

By the third song, the stage begins to fill out and, verse by verse, a new instrument is added. A mysterious electric bassist walks onto the stage as if he were a ghost, a three-foot long white curly beard waving like wheat in the wind. Next comes a congo and cymbal player. Slowly, four horns emerge: alto sax, tenor sax, then the trumpet and flugelhorn player, followed by the trombonist. The song is building momentum like a river as it nears the sea, slow and steady but undeniably determined. Lyle’s voice is the current of this creation, unwavering and deep. The steal guitar player comes next, followed by the fiddle player and another guitarist. Another drummer joins the group, perched on a spinning stool behind a full set of drums. The sound fills the auditorium and pulses, gaining even more momentum and depth. A piano player fills out the left side of the stage, patting the sleek black finish of the fine wood as he sits down to perform. Finally, four backup singers emerge from the shadows of stage left and the fill in behind Lyle’s singing so that a thickness of voice permeates the auditorium. All together there are fourteen musicians on stage.

With the band in full force, they move from old country to jazz to gospel to Celtic to bluegrass and back all night long. The evening is cross-genre, mind-blowing, magical, one-of-a-kind. By the fourth song my body is full of sound, each note as discernable as Lyle’s sweet-poem lyrics and equally full of content. “There is nothing so sweet/ as the undying love/ of a South Texas girl,” the chorus repeats, “There is nothing so sweet/ as the undying love/ of a South Texas girl.”

In between songs Lyle entertains, opens to the crowd, compliments the locals (as is custom). I get goosebumps when he sings, “I live in my own mind/ Ain’t nothin’ but a good time/ No rain, just sunshine…” His voice has a way of soup-spooning down, down, down to a deep and seductive tremolo, where the fiddle or the steal guitar sweeps us up while Lyle breathes and strums, and before you know it, a song hits you bam – smack dead in the center of the chest. He’s a heartbreaker and body-mover, no doubt.

[And there was more: the indescribable cello solo – one I’ll probably never witness anything like again; the admirable Francine leading BigCity’s women of the audience in a gospel version of “Wild Women;” and my favorite – when Lyle turned to take his suit coat off and the audience whooped and hollered and he turned around bright-eyed and hair-tosseled-smilin’ and said “Oh, don’t tease me like that!”]

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