Livin' Large: Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at The Michigan Theater
Fans of Lyle Lovett know a solo concert by the great Texas troubadour will be a reliably good time. But a show by Lovett with his Large Band, a 12-member ensemble of brilliant musicians -- well, that’s a real occasion, an event not to be missed.
The reasons for that were on full display Friday night at the Michigan Theater, as Lovett and his Large Band entertained a sold-out house for two and a half hours, exploring any number of different musical styles and evoking a full range of emotions.
Above all, the Large Band is about musicianship. All the members are absolute masters of their instruments, and all had their chances to shine in both solo and ensemble settings Friday. The four-piece horn section -- anchored by Harvey Thompson, a founding member of the fabled Muscle Shoals Horns -- added an especially rich, vibrant sound.
Lovett himself still picks a fine guitar, and after a slightly tentative start his voice warmed up and filled the hall with its distinctive twang. For much of the night, Lovett was accompanied on vocals by his longtime associate Francine Reed, a terrific singer who’s probably the single most valuable member of the ensemble. Detroit choir Joseph Derrico and Latter Rain helped fill out the sound on several numbers toward the end of the show.
Lovett’s song selection was just as impeccable as the performances, drawing from all parts of his own deep catalog -- early hits like “Cowboy Man” and “If I Had a Boat,” mid-period favorites like “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” and “Church,” and more recent gems like “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” and “Pantry” -- as well as American classics dating back as far as the 1920s (for example, “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You” and, of course, his memorable take on “Stand By Your Man”).
As always, Lovett and his Large Band mixed up styles to a greater degree than most acts. He’s generally considered a country performer, and there was plenty of that; but blues, swing, folk, gospel, jazz, and straight-up bluegrass all contributed to the mix. The musical moods ranged from wistful (“She’s Already Made Up Her Mind”) to offbeat (“Here I Am”) to sweetly romantic (“I Know You Know”) to hilarious (“She’s No Lady”), and everything in between.
Likewise, he mixed up the parts of the Large Band as well, showcasing some of the band members in small-group settings and even chatting with them in mini-"interviews" that let the audience get to know them a bit -- and also allowed the musicians some rest time without taking a full intermission, which kept the show moving very effectively.
At one point, Lovett noted that last summer’s touring schedule did not bring him to Ann Arbor, and he said he missed it. Here’s hoping Lovett and the Large Band continue to make regular visits here for many years to come.
The Blues Walk
Black and Blue
Here I Am
Stand By Your Man
Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?
Straighten Up and Fly Right
My Baby Don’t Tolerate
I’ve Been to Memphis
That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)
I Know You Know
She’s Already Made Up Her Mind
The Temperance Reel (Luke Bulla)
Let Me Fall (Keith Sewell)
If I Had a Boat
She’s No Lady
What Do You Do
Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues (Francine Reed)
I’m Going to Wait
Here I Am (Reprise)
Nobody Knows Me
White Freightliner Blues
I’m Going to the Place
Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.