The return of the Large Band behind Texas troubadour Lyle Lovett is no nostalgic exercise. After a three-year absence, during which time Lovett converted his backing unit to an all-string band steeped in bluegrass and then turned his attention to other writers’ songs, the band shines in its collective polish and in solo turns. And Lovett is the grand captain, quiet in his command of the troops and the stage, telling new and quirky stories, and an absolute delight weaving through well-worn material.
Show emphasized material from the new MCA disc “Live in Texas” (it rhymes with give) and its predecessor, “Step Inside This House.” The “Live” album is culled from a 1995 performance, guaranteeing that Wednesday’s show would be a bevy of familiar favorites and songs written for the larger ensemble. While Francine Reed’s stellar blues rave-up “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues” and the Reed-Lovett duet on “What Do You Do” were note-for-note re-creations of the live versions, the two-hour show was filled with sufficient nuance and shifting settings to all seem fresh again.
Lovett, who started the horn ‘n’ gospel Large Band in 1989 after establishing himself as a new-breed country singer-songwriter, continues to escape any pigeonholing. Wednesday’s show began in a Southern soul instrumental, wandered into vintage country (“Stand By Your Man”), a fusion of folk and funk (“Penguins”), Texas swing (“That’s Right [You’re Not From Texas]”), gospel (“Church”) and soft-spoken Texas balladry (“North Dakota”).
The subject matter, as always, is love, the varying degrees of dependence and tributes to the diversity of the Lone Star State. It doesn’t get any more American. And as performing in the 1990s goes, it doesn’t get any better.