Texas troubadour Lyle Lovett, making his return to The Egg for the third time in three years with his five-piece Acoustic Group, has a dark side that lives comfortably alongside his breezy banter and better-known sense of humor.
The Hart Theatre was totally dark except for a lone spotlight on the stage when the Wednesday night show began — Lovett singing the moody, noirish opener “Babes in the Woods” accompanied only by the menacing-sounding stand-up bass of Viktor Krauss and the spare touches of drummer Russ Kunkel. It was a dramatic opening, leading into Lovett’s traditional show starter, “Here I Am.” It’s a deadpan song with a slightly stalkerish vibe that — played super slow and deliberate here by the band — sounded especially sinister.
But Lovett is not one to stick to any particular mood or style for long. The third tune was an upbeat, swinging bluegrass instrumental that showcased the expert playing of Lovett’s all-star ensemble, with fiddler Stuart Duncan, cellist John Hagen and guitarist/mandolinist Keith Sewell showing off impressive riffs in the spotlight.
From there the group was off and running, delighting the crowd in the nearly-full theatre with a two-and-a-half-hour set that offered fiddle-fueled favorite “Cowboy Man,” the quirky jazz-flavored “Penguins,” the sophisticated swing of “I’ve Been to Memphis,” redemption tale “I Will Rise Up,” Texan-pride rave-up “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” trucker anthem “The Truck Song” and a handful of sparse, raw-sounding ballads: “Nobody Knows Me,” “If I Had a Boat,” creepy murder ballad “L.A. County” and the sublimely tender “North Dakota.”
Throughout, band members traded impeccable solos that never felt excessive, but played off each other’s parts in a highly skilled, collective way.
Lovett, dressed in a sharp, fitted suit, displayed his consummate charm and wit, thanking the fan who wished him a happy 57th (his birthday was Nov. 1). He also complimented the region’s scenic fall foliage and The Egg’s pristine sound. “You can hear so well in here it’s sort of scary,” he said.
Lovett is known for being a generous bandleader, and he made room in the set to call attention to the immense skills of his group. His longtime collaborator John Hagen, for instance, could bend his bow on a beautiful classical cello part during a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Flyin’ Shoes” and then wow the crowd with an offbeat, avant guard solo at the end of the night.
Just before the encore, a pocket of fans launched into a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You,” which erupted to fill the whole theatre. Lovett looked touched, genuinely, thanking the crowd before finishing the show with a rousing finale of Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues” and his own “You Can’t Resist It.”