Lyle Lovett at Celebrity Theatre on 7/28/10

Lyle Lovett
Celebrity Theatre
July 28, 2010

"It's just like coming home for me, coming to Phoenix," uttered Texas-bred country music legend Lyle Lovett last night. And with such good timing.

As much you or I love Arizona, currently it's in the kind of situation, both politically and culturally, that makes it sort of awkward to express that. At a time when a handful of musicians continue to isolate the state, even though the law they are attempting to protest was determined to be probably unconstitutional, it's nice to see someone embrace our state unequivocally.

Or maybe it was just standard stage banter. Either way, it warmed my heart.

It would be easy to forget that Lovett has tons of local ties, except that he took the time to mention it, often. He not only recounted stories about the first time he met the renowned jazz vocalist Francine Reed (who would later become a collaborator with him) but he was constantly telling tales about local places and personalities. He talked about KNIX's early days, the old Chuy's in Tempe, time spent at Scottsdale's Handlebar-J, and his appreciation and admiration for Arizona musicians Matt Rollins and Buck Owens.

Additionally, he featured two Arizonans in his "Very Large Band" -- a group of 14 musicians who created beautifully thick layers of textured sound with him. Phoenician Dan Tomlinson plays drums for Lovett, and well-known local country legend Ray Herndon, (of the Herndon Brothers, featured five nighs a week at the aforementioned HandlebarJ,) is one of two electric guitarists.

Lovett was constantly, genuinely grateful to Arizona and its people, not simply for coming to see him play, but for years of kindness by individuals who helped him along the way in his career.

The lengthy night of music was entirely endearing and rejuvenating for my young self. Lovett's age didn't show a bit. He has a certain youthful vibrancy to him that leaves you unable to stop smiling. Witty, charming, and full of stories and jokes, the man is sharp, and shows no signs of slowing down.

He's a bit offbeat and quirky, adding once when remarking about our summertime weather, "Some people think that talking about the weather is something you do when there's nothing else to say, but that's insulting to weathermen, meteorologists everywhere."

He also talked about what a wonderful experience it is to share a microphone with someone, rather than being "electronically coupled" with the person who is standing a few feet away from you. Though he warned that if you weren't used to doing this you could end up with your mouth awfully close to the mouth of another man -- which may not be something you're accustomed to. It was at that point that he and his ukulele player/harmonizing vocalist stood inches apart, staring into each others' eyes, when Lovett finally broke the mounting laughable tension by saying, "Is that a new belt?"

He also personally introduced opening act Kat Edmonson, a petite young woman from Austin with a voice matching someone four times her size. And he made certain that he and his band were looking sharp. Everyone wore a black suit, but it somehow didn't have the foreboding quality that one might expect.

Instead, everything Lovett did seemed to radiate cool. It was this experience that counteracted nearly everything I said about aging at the Robert Plant show. Not only did he and his band (which played not just country but incorporated blues, rock, and even gospel into his music, for several hours,) sound wonderfully warm and rich, but they did so with ease. Lovett's voice was not only impeccable, but I'd want to go out for a beer with him too. Though only 52, he causes me to rethink the depressive way I described growing old last week. If last night was any indication of what it's about, then sign me up.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I like Lyle Lovett. If you call that a bias.

The Crowd: Old-er. And seemingly very appreciative not only of the type of music being played, but also with the down-home, warm, storytelling culture that comes with it.

Overheard in the Crowd: It was super quiet. People didn't talk much. I did hear them clapping and singing along though.

Random Notebook Dump: A handful of brilliant and funny Lyle Lovett quotes, including, "There's not a greater celebration of being American than watching a football game."

Set List:
The Sun, Moon, and Stars
Whooping Crane
It's Rock and Roll
Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel
Cowboy Man
My Baby Don't Tolerate
I Will Rise Up/Ain't No More Cane
Cute as a Bug
That's Right (You're Not From Texas)
Empty Blue Shoe
Baby, It's Cold Outside (with Kat Edmonson)
She's No Lady
Farther Down the Line
Natural Forces
I'll Come Knocking
Up in Indiana
If I Had a Boat
North Dakota
Isn't That So
You Can't Resist It

White Freight Liner Blues
Ain't No More Cane

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Sarah Ventre