Saturday, August 26
music Some local music fans might have been under the impression that they had actually seen Lyle Lovett play in town. Granted, the Texas-lovin’ country crooner has hit Charlottesville before, but only with a stripped-down band. And, while those shows were reportedly fine, affecting and enjoyable affairs, the difference between Lyle-and-his-pals and Lyle-the-full-on-18-piece-extravaganza is the difference between a tasty soup appetizer and an eight-course meal.
For those who have seen Lovett with his Large Band before (or heard his live recordings), Saturday’s show probably held few surprises—the man’s carefully orchestrated concerts are as scripted as a Broadway musical—but that certainly didn’t lesson the seat-rocking impact his well-honed review delivers.
Wandering onstage with his traditional guitar-cello-and-mandolin trio, Lovett teased fans with a couple of slow, sweetly sung cowboy ballads, then launched into the plaintive “This Traveling Around.” Finally, one by one, band members began to wander onstage, adding musical layers to Lyle’s lament as if they had just stopped by for an impromptu jam: First came the bass (courtesy of white-bearded session legend Leland Sklar), then a beautiful, lonely fiddle line, and finally a full horn section, which blew the song into a big-band rave-up that left the uninitiated open-mouthed with pleasure.
Sure, it’s an obvious gimmick—but it’s one that works every time, and it set the stage for a hugely entertaining evening. By the time Lovett’s gospel quartet (anchored by the extraordinary Francine Reed) hit the stage for “I Will Rise Up,” it seemed like every face in the place was plastered with a satisfied smile.
It should also be noted that, after a full year of fiddling around, the Pavilion has finally found its sonic sweet spot. The sound system has always been top-notch, but the new baffling (and, to be sure, Lovett’s exacting ear) all worked together to create a sound mix that was about as perfect as live music ever gets. From big crowd-pleasers like “(That’s Right) You’re Not From Texas” to the old-timey, three-guys-around-a-mic bluegrass breakdown (featuring some fine vocal interplay with “resident bluegrass expert” Jeff White), every plucked note, rousing chorus and softly warbled lyric was clear and pure as a bright Texas day.
By the time the two-hour show arrived at its rafter-shaking gospel finale (“Church,” as if you had to ask), the once-echoey Pavilion felt as warm and intimate as a country church, packed to the gills with satisfied members of Lyle’s ever-growing congregation. —Dan Catalano