Lyle Lovett typically gives his audience a hefty dose of what it came to hear but with twists, turns and off-the-cuff moments thrown in — a show that is rehearsed, refined and familiar but prone to moments of improvisation.
Friday night’s acoustic show at the Uptown Theater was no different. Backed by a stellar five-piece band that included the esteemed Russ Kunkel on drums and Viktor Krauss (Alison’s brother) on bass, Lovett delivered a two-hour set of songs from all over his catalog, including several of his classics and standards.
And, as usual, he also treated the crowd to a few amusing stories and some chit-chat with his band, all seasoned heavily with his deadpan, arid wit.
He is a practitioner of the double entendre, and he opened with a couple: “Up in Indiana,” a track from the album he called “It’s Not Big It’s Large,” then “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel,” a bluegrass rocker with the chorus, “Gonna choke my chicken ’til the sun goes down.” He referred to that song later, after covering the Jackson Browne song “Rosie,” whose earnest lyrics barely veil its real theme (masturbation).
From there, the set list bounced about his discography, but the performance was cohesive, thanks to the consistent arrangements. In addition to his ace rhythm section, Lovett was accompanied by fiddler Luke Bulla, his longtime cellist John Hagen and guitarist Keith Sewell, who also played some mandolin.
Lovett gave Bulla and Sewell a chance to show off their vocal and songwriting skills. Bulla performed “Temperance Reel,” a hymn with a bluegrass/gospel vibe. Sewell performed “Let Me Fall,” a song he co-wrote with Texas legend Guy Clark.
The crowd size was relatively modest for a Lovett show: fewer than 700, it appeared. That can most likely be attributed to the regularity of his performances around here. This was at least his fourth performance in this area since 2011, including two with John Hiatt in the dueling singer/songwriter format.
Those who attended Friday’s show were in the perfect mood. He rewarded them with a second half that included several of his most beloved songs: “If I Were the Man You Wanted,” “L.A. County,” “This Old Porch,” “If I Had a Boat,” “She’s No Lady.” Each was played pretty much the way it was recorded, yet Lovett and his band managed to infuse them all with earnestness and energy.
In between songs, he exchanged pleasantries with audience members up front, paid respects to each member of his band and told a few anecdotes: about winning a turtle race at a county fair when he was 5 and the grand prize was 12 cases of beer; about writing “This Old Porch” with his college roommate, Robert Earl Keen; and about his first performance in Kansas City, which was opening for Asleep at the Wheel at the Uptown in 1987. Several people applauded the mention of that show, as if they’d been there. No surprise. Lovett has a way of making his heartiest fans come back for more, even if they have a clear idea of what he’ll be serving them.
Up in Indiana; Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel; Here I Am; The Truck Song; I Will Rise Up; Cute as a Bug; Who Loves You Better; Private Conversation; Give Back My Heart; If I Were the Man You Wanted; L.A. County; This Old Porch; Temperance Reel (Luke Bulla); Let Me Fall (Keith Sewell); Rosie; If I Had a Boat; Nobody Knows Me; She’s No Lady; My Baby Don’t Tolerate; That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas); (unknown); White Freightliner Blues.