Lyle Lovett has always offered something of an Everyman appeal. He’s a slim guy with craggy facial features, shock-top hair, and in the early days of his career — which dates back to 1976, when he played his first gigs at age 18 — he came to the stage with only his voice and his guitar.
And then, of course, he opens his mouth, and out comes a series of brilliant songs — some quirky, some poignant — imbued with evocative images and clever wordplay. They’re presented via strong, lived-in vocals with a husky edge, colored by his natural-born East Texas accent. The sometime actor is a quick wit, too, engaging with audiences in a manner that’s funny and always feel fresh.
Lovett, leading the quartet that he calls his Acoustic Group, demonstrated those winning qualities once more during a concert featuring more than two-and-one-half hours of music Wednesday night at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. It was the second performance in a two-night stand occurring about a year after his back-to-back gigs at the same venue with a slightly different group of musicians.
He wasted no time getting to the good stuff, standing in place at the front of stage, dressed in his traditional dark suit and tie, and nailing “Are We Dancing,” a jazzy tune from last year’s “12th of June” album, his first new release in a decade. The tune, a vintage-sounding ballad bolstered by the acoustic piano work of journeyman Los Angeles musician Jim Cox, benefited from the interplay between Lovett and violinist Luke Bulla, and the sturdy walking bass of Leland Sklar, the former James Taylor and Phil Collins sideman with the world’s most recognizable Rip Van Winkle white beard. Guitarist and mandolin player Jeff White rounded out the group.
Another knock-out, “Here I Am,” originally released on 1989’s “Lyle Lovett and His Large Band” album, arrived two songs later, and the soulful gospel blues tune — essentially alternating humorous spoken-word lines with a rousing chorus — gained from a couple of sections that had the singer backed only by Sklar.
The show was long on highlights, with selections pulled from all over Lovett’s discography, including the two-beat stomp of the late Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues,” a road song; the jaunty “Once is Enough”; the humorous “Pants is Overrated”; the poignant “The Mocking Ones”; “Cowboy Man”; “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” another showcase for the soloing of Bulla and White; and the hard-driving “Cute as a Bug,” one of several songs gaining from the addition of gospel-trained pianist Denny Autry AKA the group’s tour-bus driver.
More: The bluesy “Pig Meat Man,” bolstered by Cox’s bruising organ solo; “This Old Porch,” a reminiscence about Lovett’s days hanging out with fellow singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen when both were students at Texas A&M; “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” from Lovett’s 2002 collaboration with The Chieftains; “The 12th of June,” celebrating the birth of his five-year-old twins; “If I Had a Boat”; the tongue-in-cheek ditty “She’s No Lady”; and, naturally, “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” zeroing in on his affection for the Lone Star State, where he still lives with his wife and kids. (A couple of my favorites, “God Will” and “Good Intentions,” were MIA this time).
Lovett quipped that the intimate setting and warm reception from the crowd at the 750-seat Cap made him feel as if he were playing a show in the comfort of a listener’s home. The feeling was decidedly mutual.
Lyle Lovett’s Acoustic Group tour continues with performances tonight in Franklin, N.C.; Monday in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Tuesday in Roanoke, Va.; and Wednesday and Thursday in Alexandria, Va.
Check out Lyle’s recent videos:
“Pants is Overrated”
“12th of June”