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Mark Twain might be dazzled and confused by the smattering of electric instruments in Lovett's large band, but he'd recognize a tent show, for which about 1000 people sit waiting in stiff plastic chairs. Cobalt's washing over a dusky-blue sky behind the huge tent. Lovett strolls on to a burst of cheers and rebel yells. Surrounded by black, in a sepia pool, the warm exhalations of a cello, upright bass, and fiddle fill the spaces left by Lovett's acoustic guitar for a sublime cover of Vince Bell's "The Sun, Moon and Stars." Lovett recalls hanging with songwriters like Bell and Eric Taylor backstage; learning songs like Taylor's "Whooping Crane." As Lovett sings, "the bullets they spin your dreams around," more band members spot the darkness before a flood of red lights kicks on with the drummer.

Lyle skips off as the band digs into some Western swing ending in retro reverb calls and responses from the electric players book-ending the stage. Then he's back at the mic, reciting the opening to "It's Rock and Roll": "All these hungry people are screamin' out your name..." An audience member yells, "Lyle!" to which he responds, quick as lightning, "No, it's usually someone else's name." The crowd erupts in giggles. Now the gospel singers who help cement Lovett's "It's not big it's large" claim are assembled to help turn "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel" into a goof fest about "chok(ing) my chicken" that dissolves into arm flaps and "buck-buck-BUCKs." All the elements are assembled for a unique, two-hour amalgamation of country, blues, big band, and folk driven by unerring dynamics.

Highlights include crystalline pedal steel, the joyful theatrics of "My Baby Don't Tolerate," the exuberant swing of "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)," and Lovett's surprisingly sexy duet with opener Kat Edmondson on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The crowd sings along with "I've Been to Memphis" before rising for Lovett's sly, rich-as-Southern-Fried-Steak opus "Church."

  • Concert: Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
  • Date: July 25
  • Venue: Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay
  • Seats: ninth row
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