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Home Blogs The Arts Lyle and his Large Band kick it up a notch at the Cowan Center

Lyle and his Large Band kick it up a notch at the Cowan Center

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There's a moment in every live show when the band and the audience know it's going to be a good night.

That moment came Thursday at the Cowan Center in Tyler when Lyle Lovett and his Large Band formed a kick line during "Penguins," a perennial crowd favorite.

I don't go for fancy cars
For diamond rings
Or movie stars
I go for penguins
Oh Lord I go for penguins

Throw your money out the door
We'll just sit around
And watch it snow
I go for penguins
Oh Lord I go for penguins

Penguins are so sensitive
Penguins are so sensitive
Penguins are so sensitive
To my needs

I've been following Lyle since he was just a kid. He's never moved much, cool character that he is. But, Thursday night, he cut loose. Everyone in the audience roared their approval.

Lovett is on the last leg of his "Release Me" tour behind his final release for Curb Records. (Click here to read my review.) He and the boys are at Austin City Limits tonight, then they'll take a well-deserved break.

The band opened with a foot-stomping arrangement of "Garfield's Blackberry Blossom," then Lyle joined the 11  musicians on stage and for the next 2 1/2 hours, they gave us a schooling on how good music should be done.

Arnold McCuller, long-time backup singer for James Taylor, has replaced vocalists Sweet Pea Atkinson, Harry Bowens, Willie Green Jr. and Francine Reed. He soared on Michael Franks' "White Boy Lost in the Blues." His light-as-a-breeze tenor wafted throught the hall as Lovett tended to the melody. There was a lot of appreciative applause when they wrapped it up.

I missed Willie Green Jr.'s incredibly deep bass on "Isn't That So," but John Hagen did his best to put a floor under the lyrics with his beautiful cello.

Next up from the new record was "Keep It Clean," followed by an old chestnut, "Cute as a Bug."

She's as cute as a Bug
Short as a minute
She's a pretty little package with
Everything in it
I've said enough
To praise God above
I'm crazy in love
She's as cute as a Bug

Then, McCuller got a solo - and man - can this man deliver a song. He took us straight to a smoky piano bar in West Hollywood. He did an original tune called "Gods and Monsters" off his record, "Soon as I Get Paid," which Lovett noted was "an optimistic" record title.

Lovett got serious with a haunting Eric Taylor song called "Understand You." It's one of my favorite cuts off the new record. 

What a pretty mystery you
You suddenly turned out to be
I've never held you gently
But I want to

Well, I'll watch your friends come through the door
And I slide my feet across the floor
There are things I might ask
I don't need to

Can't you tell I'm telling you
That I want to
Understand you, oh

Lyle took a minute to talk about the songwriters who gave him his first breaks. Of course, there was Guy Clark who took a Lovett demo tape to recording executives before he and Lovett ever met. Then there was Taylor, Vince Bell and Townes Van Zandt. Lovett shared some memories of Anderson Faire in Houston, a place where young songwriters made their debuts back in the day.

"Places like that, someone had to speak up for you," Lovett told the crowd. "Eric Taylor invited me to play a few songs with him. It held maybe 85, 86 people, including the fire marshal."

Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" with a reference to Texas Ranger Adrian Beltre was up next, with Lovett smoking the neck of his guitar.

Texas songwriters like Clark, Van Zandt, Bell and Taylor have a special way of telling a story, and Lovett always takes time to honor their work, both on his records and in performance.

This time around, Lovett introduced the audience to John Grimalid and Saylor White, who put a tragedy to music in "Dress of Laces." No one moved and I saw some people wiping tears away after he finished.

As those early arists lifted him, Lyle is now lifting the new kids.When Luke Bulla (fiddle), Shawn Watkins (of Nickel Creek) and Keith Sewell (mandolin) took their turns, Lyle stood aside, like a proud papa watching his fledglings fly.

Bulla shared an original song, "Remember Well" from his self-titled EP. Bulla has sold out of the EP during this tour.

Lovett had a solution for anyone who wanted to hear some more. Bulla could become a mp3 player.

"You could just stand out in the lobby," he said. "And let people press play."

"Girl With The Holiday Smile," a song about a lady of the evening Lovett saw late one night at an Austin 7-11, was next. Only the wry Lovett could sing a song about a hooker on Christmas Eve and make it work in the Bible belt of East Texas.

When they got ready to do "Up in Indiana," a blazing bluegrass number from Lovett's "Natural Forces" record, he stepped up to the microphone and waited for Keith Sewell, who played with Ricky Skaggs for nine years, to step up, too.

"Bluegrass is the dark side of country music," Lovett said. "Truly horrible, tragic things can happen to you in a bluegrass song."

Laughter from the audience.

"It's also the only time you can do the socially unacceptable thing and stand in close proxmitiy to a man you admire."

The audience roared as Sewell got the message and moved in.

When the band did the intro for "She's No Lady," my favorite Lyle Lovett song, I thanked the music gods for being so kind. The tune is not always on the set list, but Thursday was my lucky night.

Then, came "That's Right, You're Not From Texas," which has become one of Lovett's signature tunes. He wrote the song with iconic Texas songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey and his wife, Alison Rogers Ramsey.

The band closed the evening with a blistering cover of Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues." Everyone of the 11 artists that now make up the Large Band got their turn at a solo, and man, they tore it up. Townes would have loved it.

For encores, Lyle and the boys took us to "Church" and then did the final number, "You Can't Resist It," where it was finally Hagen's turn to stun us with his artistry. Not sure what you call what he did to those cello strings, but I loved it.

As fellow Lovett fan Don Fausett said in a post-show email, "The cello player did some things I had never heard on a cello before. It was outstanding."

Linda Su Knox, a music lover from Paris, celebrated a friend's birthday at the show.

"Everyone I know who has seen Lyle Lovett in concert has a story to tell about the concert experience," Knox said. "I have one such story when I saw him for the first time about ten years ago when he played for an Austin City Limits anniversary celebration. My overriding memory was the encore 'Closing Song,' and the cello solo. I swear I didn’t breathe through it. The same thing happened Thursday night at the Cowan Center, and my friend, who I took for her birthday present, leaned over and said she wanted to be that cello."

A note should be made about the young guitar player who performed as we took our seats. His name is Benjamin Golden and he's a roadie on the tour. Lyle heard him picking and asked him to play a few tunes. One of the numbers he did Thursday night was "Autumn Leaves," which brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Can't help it and don't really think I care to try to hold them back. It's one of the most beautiful songs ever written and Golden delivered a glorious arrangement of it.

Before the show was over, Lovett talked a little bit about the musicians who have played with him for a long time, like Hagen, Ray Herndon (guitar) and Matt Rollins (piano).

"Life doesn't get any better than to get to do what you love with your closest and most talented friends."

Indeed. For a music lover, life doesn't get much better than Thursday night. I heard "Autumn Leaves," "She's No Lady" and "White Freightliner Blues" in the span of three hours. I don't remember much about the drive home and my heart has yet to stop smiling.









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