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Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band @ Wisconsin State Fair

Aug. 5, 2010

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It was during some quieter numbers by Lyle Lovett and three members of his Large Band, which helped open the Wisconsin State Fair Thursday, that the singer pointed at the helicopter that had hovered overhead for the better part of two songs.

“We’re often mistaken for a high-speed chase,” the droll country-crossover superstar said.

The helicopter, part of the effort to rescue more than 100 people trapped on a broken-down Sky Glider, was one of several annoyances marring an otherwise excellent set by Lovett and his 13 band mates.


Chairs too tightly packed together, music bleed-through from other fair acts and sound mixed too loudly even for the great outdoors flawed an otherwise picture-perfect evening. Despite the impediments, the sparse crowd was treated to a fine 75-minute opening set by Texas swing legends Asleep at the Wheel and more than two hours of an excellent Large Band performance.


Lovett opened with an uncharacteristically quiet two-song set featuring Vince Bell’s touching “Sun and Moon and Stars” and Eric Taylor’s evocative “Whooping Crane,” which both appear on his 2009 album Natural Forces. The rest of the large band appeared behind Lovett and three band mates to pluck more works from the new recording, including “Pantry,” “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel” and “It’s Rock and Roll.”


In their black suits and ties, the Large Band looked like a gathering of the Not-So-Young Republicans, with the exceptions of legendary backup drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar, who more and more resembles the members of ZZ Top. Lovett took advantage of backup singers Willie Green Jr., Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson—the later two from the Detroit funk group Was (Not Was)—to create a stirring version of “I Will Rise Up.”


Other hits followed, including “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas),” “Cute as a Bug,” “If I Had a Boat” and, of course, the gospel-inflected “Church.” Lovett also was joined several times by Ray Benson, front man for Asleep at the Wheel. The Grammy Award-winning Austin septet proved to be the perfect opening act for Lovett and a group we should hear from a lot more.

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