Any way you serve him, Lyle Lovett will always satisfy.
Straight off of the grill, seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper, battered and fried, southern-style, or dressed with a wild mushroom port sauce. In all cases, tasty.
Saturday night at Kingsbury Hall, a disappointingly sedate crowd was served Lovett all of those ways and more. Thanks to the backing of his Large Band, he was able to move through the wide swath of his catalog without ever missing a step.
Over the course of 2 1/2 hours and nearly 25 songs, Lovett played songs from both his current release, "It's Not Big It's Large," crowd favorites, and songs from deeper in his albums. The range of styles, reflected with the shifting focuses of each of his albums, also was on full display, as he played everything from Appalachian bluegrass to Delta blues to Nashville country.
Oh, and there was gospel, almost a half-dozen songs worth, with excellent backing from the local Mama's Temple Church Choir. Those songs, in fact, seemed about the only things that could bring even some of the crowd to their feet, especially "A Solider In The Army Of The Lord" and "Until My Savior Comes."
While dismissed by many who have not seen him perform live as a goofy country singer, Lovett excels on stage, thanks to incredible songwriting chops, musical skills, and diminutive ego. He revels in the jokes he tells, loves to banter with his band, and loves to tell stories as long as they're about the songs.
Multiple exchanges with his band members that seemed natural even if they were rehearsed prompted extended laughter from the crowd and band. His stories preceding songs also entertain, such as the introduction to "Keep It In Your Pantry," a song that tackles the infidelity-like feelings involved in eating good food without the woman you love.
Having a large backing band, even if it lacked a horn section, opens up many possibilities for Lovett on some of his most familiar songs. On "North Dakota," the weeping strings gave the heart-breaking song an even darker depth, while the rocking "My Baby Don't Tolerate" became a headlong aural assault.
One danger for an artist with the experience of Lovett is "safe" new releases that simply give them an excuse for another summer tour. And truth be told, he probably could continue to tour for another decade on the strength of crowd-favorites like "Long Tall Texan," "If I Had A Boat," or "Church," new album or not.
But he has not become complacent or predictable in his writing, as was proven with songs selected from his most recent release. The best of those is "South Texas Girl," which pines for the good ol' days of Texas living, when a family could pile into the convertible and travel to a Catholic church even if they're Lutheran without worrying about things like open container laws and child safety seats, before "social correctness leaves no room for Santa Claus."
Saturday night, as with pretty much every night that Lovett plays, songs like that are what really set him apart from other country artists and even other songwriters. With a few words sprinkled in a stanza, Lovett captures the genuine difficulties that most Americans struggle with in their daily lives. The only difference is that he talks about such with the backing of, as he is wont to remind, a large band.