There were a few different intriguing elements going into Lyle Lovett's Monday night St. Louis visit. For starters, the show sold out less than ten minutes after it went on sale. This, of course, had as much to do with the country-folk troubadour's crossover appeal as it does the Sheldon's modest capacity. Additionally, one had to wonder how in the world Lovett's "Large Band" was going to fit on the snug confines of the Sheldon's stage. Just before 9:00 pm, the boney-framed Lovett, and his signature rat's nest of hair, assumed his position in the middle of the stage and eased into the subtle-yet-stark folk croon of "Sun and Moon and Stars" and "Whooping Crane" from 2009's Natural Forces. From there, Lovett's Large Band trickled out, representing fourteen members strong.
Perhaps surprising to many, the band kicked into a few scorching, south-Texas rockers ("The Blues Walk" and "It's Rock and Roll") that ultimately set the tone for the rest of the evening. It would have been very easy for Lovett to use the Sheldon's intimate atmosphere as opportunity to give the band a rest and fall back on some of his more quiet, folky tunes. But that wasn't the case: Guitarists Mitch Watkins and Ray Herndon may have been about twenty feet away from each other, and had a dozen players between them, but they were clearly on the same page as they kept trading sizzling, smoky guitar riffs.
Lovett's always-animated soul choir was in tow as well. Sporting matching suits and nailing off-the-cuff choreography, the singers jived and wailed their way through Lovett's gospel-infused bluesy numbers, and offered a humorous chicken-clucking choir on "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel," which teetered between hokey and top shelf Texas swing.
Lovett made sure to inject plenty of humor throughout the set, as he always tends to do. A few songs in, he traded quips with legendary bassist Leland Sklar, who resembles a wizard as much as he does a stoner Moses. Lovett asked the crowd, "If I stand directly in front of Leland's beard, does it look like I have a mullet?" Sklar stared on with the same stoic glare he assumes while holding down his sturdy basslines.
Always the purveyor of variety, Lovett had the majority of the band take a break while he, Sklar, and young pups Luke Bulla (fiddle) and Keith Sewell (guitar/mandolin) serenaded the crowd with a four-song bluegrass hoedown. While this string of songs sounded great, you could sense the fan's craving for more heavy-hitters. Lovett may have sensed it too, as he chatted it out with 10-year-old twins in the front row and half-jokingly apologized to them by saying, "Sorry this is so long."
Before the restlessness grew too much, the band quickly emerged and ripped into the final stretch of classics ("If I Had a Boat", "You Can't Resist it"). Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the set closer and appropriately-titled, "Church." By the end of the song, Lovett and his large band had the whole crowd on their feet, raising up their hands, and summoning the gods of southern country gospel. It was Lovett's version of Rev. Springsteen's spiritual rock & roll meets Preacher James Brown's soul revival.
Show Notes: *Opener Dana Cooper delivered a great opening set. On his final song, "Jesse James", Cooper abused his six steel strings, evoking images of James Taylor meets Carl Perkins.
*Kudos to the Sheldon Concert Hall for always providing the most accommodating and friendly staff. They truly know how to optimize the fan's ultimate concert experience.
*While taking in Lovett's great sense of humor and fine showmanship, it was impossible not to think about the recent tragic loss of Fattback's Dave Hagerty, and watch the show with an extremely heavy heart. Miss ya, David.
Setlist: Sun and Moon and Stars Whooping Crane The Blues Walk It's Rock n'Roll Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel Cowboy Man My Baby Don't Tolerate I Will Rise Up Cute as a Bug That's Right (You're Not from Texas) Empty Blue Shoes Needless to Say (With Dana Cooper) Natural Forces Loretta Pantry Blue Skies I'll Come Knockin White Freightliner Up in Indiana If I had a Boat Isn't that So (???) Church
-ENCORE- Can't Resist it Ain't No More Cane