Guy Clark once sang, “Old friends – they shine like diamonds.” That feels appropriate as we welcomed back our pal, noted Guy Clark fan, and ACL frequent flyer Lyle Lovett to our stage for a headliner show for the first time in a dozen years. (In fact, the last time Lovett did his own taping was the final show in our original home in Studio 6A in 2010.) So the show felt like a reunion, not only for us, but for the devoted fans that packed ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The Texas hero was here to support his latest album 12th of June, of course, and pulled from it generously. But the show was as much a homecoming as a showcase.
The lights on stage went down, before pianist Jim Cox and violinist Luke Bulla played the bandleader onstage for the lovely old-school ballad “Are We Dancing.” Lovett then quit the stage and the band swung into “Cookin’ at the Continental,” the classic jazz tune from the pen of piano great Horace Silver that throws a spotlight on every member of the twelve-piece Large Band. Lovett and his four singers (including longtime compatriot Francine Reed) returned for “Pants is Overrated,” a prime slice of the songwriter’s wry humor. After noting how glad he was to return to the ACL stage, Lovett told the story of meeting Francine Reed, who’s sung with him since the mid-eighties. Reed announced her retirement from the road this year, but not before she joined the Large Band for this performance. She and Lovett sang two duets drawn from the repertoire of jazz vocal great Nat King Cole and recorded on 12th of June: “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You,” the latter of which featured Lovett taking Reed for a brief spin on the dance floor.
Lovett talked about his time on the show, reminiscing about how he used to come to tapings long before he ever performed himself. He segued into introducing the core members of the Large Band, many of whom he’s played with for thirty-plus years, before playing the country waltz “Her Loving Man.” After bemusedly describing his early years being mislabeled a folk singer, introducing his friends in the audience, Lovett claimed the next song as a commemoration of a successful co-headlining tour with singer/songwriter Chris Isaak – who walked out onstage midway through the wry “Mirrored Man’s Lament” to sing along, to the surprise and delight of the crowd. Of course, you can’t invite the sparkle-jacketed rocker onstage and not sing a Roy Orbison song, and that was “Dream Baby,” the song they performed together every night during the tour. Following one quick (and, sadly, temporary) jacket exchange, Isaak left and Lovett sang the melancholy ballad “The Mocking Ones.”
Prefaced by a story about his family’s history and traditions, Lovett paid tribute to his wife and children with the beautiful title track to 12th of June. He continued the nods to family with “Pig Meat Man,” a bluesy stroll through his son’s love of bacon that featured some sizzling improvisations from University of North Texas saxophone professor Brad Leeli. The Large Band ended the first set with the barrelhouse piano-led “On a Winter’s Morning,” the same song that concludes 12th of June. Following a short period of rest, Lovett and the band returned for a hearty five-song encore, starting with Lovett and Isaak sharing an impromptu duet on the Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away From Me” with trombonist Charles Rose. The blues feel continued with “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” with round-robin solos from guitarist James Harrah, steel player Buck Reid, guitarist Dean Parks and drummer Russ Kunkel.
The fan favorites continued with “I’ve Been to Memphis,” the rollicking opener to Lovett’s classic Joshua Judges Ruth that spotlighted bassist Leland Sklar, fiddler Luke Bulla, pianist Jim Cox, acoustic guitarist Jeff White, singers Reid, Willie Greene, Jr., Lamont Van Hook and Jason Eskridge, the four-piece horn section of Lesli, Rose, trumpeter Steve Hermann and saxophonist Mace Hibbard and stalwart cellist John Hagen, with whom Lovett began playing in 1979. Lovett enthused about his old friend’s history before telling him, “Let’s play one we’ve played many times.” That was “If I Had a Boat” from Lovett’s second album Pontiac, a Lovett standard and a crowd favorite. There was only one way to follow that and end the evening, and that was with “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” Lovett’s lively and beloved homage to his home state. The audience went justifiably wild as the Large Band played their leader off with a burst of “Here I Am.” It was a great show and a proper homecoming, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.