Like Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett and Leo Kottke are inventive musicians, penetrating songwriters, who have a loyal, intense - but generally small - following.
And Sunday night the Lyle and Leo show were met at Kingsbury Hall by a loyal and intense reception.For those "out of the loop" on this pair, Lovett is the Texas boy with a pompadour who loves taking chances. It's impossible to get a focus on his work - he scuttles about like a bug avoiding the pin.
Sunday, for instance, he moved from hard country music, to blues, to jazz, to folk, to swing, to parodies of all five. His Large Band is a concoction of horns, keyboards, drums, bass, lead guitar, back-up singers and a string player who plays his cello like a string bass and holds his fiddle like a cello.
On all that music Lovett hangs his famous lyrics, words that tend to ping-pong between the heart and head, but seldom get down to gut level. "She's No Lady, She's My Wife," "Cinderella and the Cowboy" and other Lovett numbers are pleasant and fresh, but the irony in the lyrics sets them out of the reach of passion.
As an example, after several minutes of progressive jazz and cerebral rhymes, Lovett turned the stage over to his back-up singer, Francine Reeve. She immediately stole the show out from under him with her driving, gut-wrenching style. It was as if the audience had been waiting for a reason to let go all night, and it did with her.
Lovett saved pride, however, by bringing things home with a couple of high-energy numbers of his own.
Leo Kottke opened the show. Kottke has played Utah several times. The first time was probably in the early '70s at Park City when it got so cold he couldn't keep the guitar strings from breaking.
He claimed to have a bad memory, and he's apparently forgotten that evening, because he worked and played as hard as ever without a mention of it.
Kottke's busy guitar instrumentals have pretty much set a standard for such things in the industry. Now, however, he's adding more words to the music. Not only as lyrics, but as banter between songs.
Easygoing, funny, Kottke comes off a lot like Garrison Keillor. He uses his personal experience as a springboard to bigger things.
At one point he began playing the Byrds' classic "Eight Miles High" with his capo still on the guitar. The song was obviously way out of his range. So, as he picked and strummed along he casually said "See that device there on my guitar? Well, it's not supposed to be there." He deftly clicked it off and switched keys without missing a beat.
In all, KRCL's track record for bringing in good shows wasn't hurt with this one. A good pairing, playing good music.