Lovett brought his country stylings to Abravanel Hall last
yle Lovett is a true cowboy.
The cowboy image has, in recent years, been remade into that of
the desperado—the under-informed, overly armed lone gunman
who delights in flaunting his disdain for city folk and their laws.
He shoots first and seldom asks questions, even after the dust dies
down. He may well belong to the fabric of American myth, but he’s
He may just as well be, say, an over-privileged heir to a political
dynasty from some state like Connecticut. (That’s right, he’s
not from Texas.)
There’s a saying we use in Texas to diagnose examples of this
growing phenomenon of cowboy posturing. You just lean back, sigh
a little and say, “Well, he’s all hat and no cattle.”
Lyle (you don’t call a true cowboy by last name), Texas’
national treasure, has the hat, the cattle and the voice of a fallen
Like all true cowboys, he’s got precious little to say most
of the time. When he does talk (and he thanks you kindly for listening),
what he says is tempered by hours of solitary contemplation—perhaps,
in the case of his newest album, seven years of reflection.
During his two-and-a-half-hour set at Abravanel Hall last Wednesday
night, Lyle played almost the entirety of My Baby Don’t Tolerate,
his first collection of new music since his 1996 Grammy-winning
Road To Enseñada. Backed by about three-quarters of his Cowboy
Band, he delivered an amazing concert with his characteristic knobby-kneed
grace, that lanky, disarmingly earnest presence that makes the spotlight
seem a mere convention.
With My Baby Don’t Tolerate, he does not remake himself. The
songs on this album represent no new developments, just a refinement
of the absolutely unique voice that made him a legend so early in
It’s all there—Lyle’s trademark wit, the play
between wry intelligence and country simplicity, coming from a highly
cultured mind that deems the front porch the best place for contemplation.
(As Lyle puts it, “I've been to Paris/ And I don't mean Texas/
I met Wim Wenders/ One time in London”)
While the track “Cute As A Bug” satisfies the taste
for the at-first-sight, swingin’ lust songs Lyle has long
perfected, it’s through the searing jazz of “You Were
Always There” and the solace of “In My Own Mind”
that this latest album distinguishes itself.
While Lyle Lovett’s albums are touching, his live performances
are flooring, though he has no need for showmanship. His musicianship
speaks for itself. Neither is he the kind of musician who arrives
by limo half an hour late to his concert, offers lengthy tirades
against the assholes who drive SUVs, then perfunctorily rolls through
the set with wonder that the audience should be so lucky.
Though hardly chatty, Lyle offered several stories to the audience,
relating how he got his first gig. At Texas A&M, as the student
in charge of booking a local practice hall, he booked himself, considering
that “sometimes you got to take matters into your own hands.”
When the feisty crowd shouted for his widely recognizable favorites,
“(That’s Right) You’re Not From Texas” and
“If I Had A Boat,” Lyle gently explained that he was
going to play sad, depressing songs first. After “You Were
Always There,” one of the finest moments of a fantastic show,
he apologized, saying, “I’m sorry I said that was a
sad, depressing song. It’s a song about true love.”
Lyle is a professor of this kind of true love—the actual,
daily encounter love, the love of such songs as “Her First
Mistake,” about, as he explained, “finding the perfect
person for the person you’re pretending to be.”
Santa Fe country artist Bill Hearn opened the night, covering Lyle’s
fellow Texas legends Robert Earl Keen and Guy Clark. He received
a standing ovation, the first I had ever witnessed for an opening
act. Later, Lyle and Bill sang together, brotherly, and Bill—a
University of Texas graduate—benevolently forgave Robert and
Lyle, roommates at A&M, for attending their school. That’s
when I knew that the spirit had truly descended upon us.
After revisiting much of his classic 1987 album Pontiac, Lyle closed
his set with the gospel song “I’m Going To Wait,”
recorded after the death of his father and accompanied live by the
Choral Arts Society of Utah, which gave a performance worthy of
a Christopher Guest film and reminded me that the mark of a truly
bad gospel choir is the presence of sheet music.
Last week’s concert spanned Lyle’s extensive musical
range—which traverses the borders of R&B, country, rock,
gospel, bluegrass and jazz—while remaining squarely Texan
in sensibility. In his unique assemblage of these styles, he gives
Texans—who may be particularly hard-pressed for this lately—another
reason to be proud of their state. It’s the home of the Dixie
Chicks, after all.