Lovett keeps it loose in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Lovett keeps it loose in Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen TimesLyle Lovett, Saturday night at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House.
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ASPEN ” Lyle Lovett is known as a perfectionist.

Where many musicians ” like artists of all kinds ” embrace the “happy accident,” Lovett seems to believe all accidents are to be avoided. His songs are marvels of precision, his albums even more so. On stage, his sidemen are given room to shine, but within defined parameters.

But Aspen, where Lovett spends some time outside of touring, seems to have a loosening-up effect on the Texan, as does the Wheeler Opera House, where he performed Saturday night. He told the audience that he had arrived in Aspen a few days earlier, to play a birthday party on top of Buttermilk for fellow Texan (and part-time Aspenite) Gerry Goldstein, and repeatedly made reference to Goldstein and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis ” an indication that Lovett was feeling more casual than normal.

But what truly surprised me was Lovett’s announcement, at the start of the show, that he was proceeding that night without a set list. Exactly when did he adopt the Grateful Dead as his performance model? (Come to think of it, he is known to cover the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.”) Lovett wasted no time in launching into a genuine improvisation: In the opener “Here I Am,” he added to the song’s spoken-word section ” a bit geared toward the local populace, something about returning to Aspen each year, to find that some of his friends’ breasts had grown.

Later in the show, Lovett played a song he said he co-wrote with his girlfriend. The song, “Keep It In Your Pantry,” has not been officially released, and at the Wheeler, it had the feel of having not been completely worked-over (by Lovett’s standards, at least). Musically, the song fits into the bluegrass mold, and earlier in the night, Lovett had said that he sees himself as an observer, not a player, of bluegrass.

Still, it was a highlight, an excellent display of Lovett’s comedic side. “Keep It In Your Pantry” plays with what Lovett called “in-food-elity” ” eating one of your significant other’s favorite foods, while your significant other is away. (“Don’t cheat on me with biscuits, don’t cheat on me with beans, Don’t cheat on me with bacon fried up with collard greens.”)

Much of the night’s material came from Lovett’s two most recent albums: 2007’s “It’s Not Big It’s Large,” and 2004’s “My Baby Don’t Tolerate.” Those two albums demonstrate that Lovett’s songwriting is as sharp and varied as ever. “I Will Rise Up” leans toward gospel; “My Baby Don’t Tolerate” dabbles in blues themes. “South Texas Girl” is a latter-day Lovett classic ” no-doubt-about-it country, with a yearning cello riff and a vivid sense of place, with heat, cowboys and drinks. But Lovett layers on sophistication, with asides into religion, history and memory.

Lovett didn’t ignore older creations, giving longtime fans versions of “If I Had a Boat,” “I’ve Been to Memphis” and “Give Back My Heart.”

Lovett’s band was an ideal instrument for staying loose. Bassist Viktor Krauss is a jazz player, schooled in the art of improvisation. Mandolinist Keith Sewell came out of the bluegrass world, and clearly knows a thing about jamming. Cellist John Hagen has been playing with Lovett for three decades, and presumably helps Lovett find a comfort zone. Guitarist Mitch Watkins has played in enough bands to know how to swing all different ways. Lovett kept up a conversation with all his sidemen, letting the audience in on the humor.

The one instrument noticeably absent from Lovett’s band ” a drummer, making sure that everything ran on course, on time, tight and buttoned down.

stewart@aspentimes.com


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