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Lyle Lovett
Charlottesville Pavilion
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

Idlewild
Outkast
LaFace Records

cd  Outkast fans worried about breakup rumors will be happy to see Andre “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” back together on Idlewild—their first truly collaborative effort since 2000’s Stankonia. However, only people who really, really like Outkast should actually part with their hard-earned cash for this one. Dre and Big Boi may still be partners, but this, their sixth release, is definitely their least inspired effort to date.
Like their film of the same name, Idlewild is a tribute to the music and style of the 1930s, retouched with a hip-hop flair. Simply mashing disparate styles together, however, does not an artist make. When Outkast blew up out of Atlanta in the late 1990s with their 1998 masterpiece, Aquemini, the group proved that hip-hop with a pop chorus didn’t have to suck. Subsequent albums like Stankonia and Speakerboxx/The Love Below (which was really more of a dual solo effort than an Outkast album proper) provided moments of brilliance, but along the way Andre 3000 apparently started to fancy himself the heir to Prince. Someone should really tell him that just because a rapper writes so-so pop songs and wears neon pants, that doesn’t make him a genius.
On earlier albums Outkast managed to cook up quirky pop hooks that worked because their tumbling, insightful rhymes were so good. On Idlewild, though, Andre 3000’s raps sound exactly as whack as you’d expect from a wanna-be model—and from Big Boi we get lazy singsong refrains like “I don’t want no girlfriend, just wanna get into you.” Apparently Outkast wrote the album while also working on the film, which may explain why it sounds phoned-in.
Unfortunately, Andre 3000 says he loves acting, and he’s touting an upcoming clothing line—an indication he isn’t going to be sewing the ass back into his trousers anytime soon. And poor Big Boi seems to have no choice but to play along. As a film, Idlewild may prove that rappers can act, but the accompanying album shows why actors definitely shouldn’t rap.—John Borgmeyer

Madden NFL ’07
Electronic Arts
Various platforms

games  Tell your teachers to forget about homework. Tell your parents you’re eating dinner in your room. Call up some friends and pick up the sticks—it’s game time. Madden ’07 is out. The highest-selling pro football franchise is back for its 17th year with new and improved features, such as “Hall of Fame” mode and lead blocker controls. The biggest improvement, however, is the updated rosters, where new NFL stars such as Reggie Bush make their debuts with their respective new teams, and the NFL’s free agents join their latest squads. Although the pro football season doesn’t begin until September 7, Madden’s trademark verbal barrage—as always—makes it feel like an amped-up Sunday afternoon in the middle of November.
Madden ’07 keeps the features of previous games, such as Quarterback Vision, Hit Stick, Jukes, Mini Camps, and Offensive and Defensive Playmakers, while incorporating welcome new features into the action. For hard-core gamers who have previously been frustrated with Madden’s faulty computer blocking, the game now offers the chance to control blockers and score touchdowns by flattening the defense. Gamers can also take a player in his rookie season and lead him through an entire career—and possibly into the Hall of Fame. Another personal favorite of mine is that all 32 teams have close rankings that accurately represent the parity of the National Football League. Unlike former editions, which gave the lower teams no chance against the perennial favorites, this year’s Madden guarantees every team a fighting chance.
One drawback to all of this innovation is that, with so many complex new features, figuring out the right button to mash is occasionally confusing—but complaining about Madden is like complaining about having to drive the Beemer instead of the Merc. Hey, buddy—you’re still driving a sports car! Madden, once again, proves itself a must-own for any true football or video-game lover.—Sean Petterson

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