Lyle Lovett and His Large Band – Excellence at The Belly Up, July 4

Lyle Lovett brought his Large Band to the small stage at The Belly Up for two nights, and it was delightful. His subtle but consummate professionalism was evident throughout the evening.

Touring a large band was once a fairly regular occurrence. It was not always easy back in the day, just ask the musicians who passed through bands run by Quincy Jones, James Brown, Duke Ellington or more recently Steven Van Zandt. The expense then and especially now is challenging. But the result can be stunning.

Lovett has assembled over a dozen sterling musicians, with the result being a group that can deliver his broad and deep songbook in nuanced fashion. Standouts include Russ Kunkel and Leland Sklar (the pair grace just about every pivotal album from James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, CSN and literally thousands more). Jeff White has played with and/or produced Vince Gill, Alison Kraus and The Chieftains. I could go on, but you get a sense of both Lovett’s high standards and the experience of his band.

Ace musicians Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel

Lovett sprinkles his set list with several choice covers, including a wry take on Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” after his traditional walk on instrumental “Blues Walk.”

“Here I Am” appropriately comes up early in the evening. He generously praises his fellow musicians with appealing between song patter, weaving in sly humor.

Later in the evening, after great takes of “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” and “I Will Rise Up” he tells a great story about how he came to cover “A World Without Love.” Written by Paul McCartney for his then-girlfriend’s brother Peter Asher, it ran up the charts in the 60s after being recorded by said Peter and Gordon. Asher later went on to become a successful producer (Ronstadt, Taylor, Raitt, et al). Lovett and his bandmates provide wonderful harmonies.

As the show moves toward its inevitable end, the songs become more poignant. By then, Lovett has enthralled us with the delicate assurance of his music. “Nobody Knows Me” is an achingly beautiful love song, which segues perfectly into “12th of June.”

Lovett introduced the latter song by describing his family’s burial grounds in Texas. Far from being a sad place, it is filled with joy as his extended family gathers to picnic and reminisce. The lyrics telescope to describe his immediate family:

All I have I gladly give themAll I am they will exceedAnd one thing I know for sureIf they improve the likes of meThey make a better man of me

And then he expresses his gratitude even more deeply:

And to these beautiful two childrenAnd to my sweet and tender wifeI will love you three foreverThough I fly beyond this lifeThough I fly beyond this life

It is a magnificent moment, with the audience still and silent as Lovett delivers the lyrics, eyes tight.

He then takes us around the clubhouse turn, picking up the pace with “If I Had a Boat” and closing inevitably with “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas).” Both offer excellent sing-along refrains, and it seems everybody is engaged.

The encore of “Church” is a rousing finale to another superb evening, a perfect combination of artist and venue.

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.