Santa Barbarans have had the opportunity to catch Lyle Lovett on many occasions in many modes — from his swinging, swanky-cool Large Ensemble at the Santa Barbara Bowl to “singer-songwriters sittin’ around slinging tunes” format, with the likes of John Hiatt, Joe Ely and the late, Guy Clark, at the Arlington and the Chumash Casino. Yet Lovett’s most recent 805 visit, with his acoustic quartet at Campbell Hall, struck a deeper chord than usual, partly thanks to a notably personal and nostalgic state of mind.
It also didn’t hurt that his band is comprised of killer players, to a man — bassist Viktor Krauss, ace fiddler Luke Bulla, recent Grammy-winning guitarist-mandolinist Jeff White, and young dobro master Josh Swift. (Aptly-named, Swift peeled off dizzying licks early in the show, before mellowing into a more understated support mode).
Warm and wry as ever, the smartly dressed Lovett appeared in sync with his suit-and-tied bandmates. Wending through a generous two-hour-and-change, career-spanning set, Lovett laid claim to his original yet deeply-rooted musical life as a Texan who would be an American treasure.
Lovett dipped into the song list from his 1986 debut album, including “Cowboy Man” and “God Will.” He also waxed nostalgic about playing Houston steakhouses (“In Texas, meat connects everybody,” he informed us) in his pre-fame days. He also paid tribute to late, great Texan songwriters via a poignant version of Clark’s first foray into songwriting, “Step Inside this House” (which Clark allowed Lovett to make the debut recording of for his 1998 album), and Townes Van Zandt’s heartfelt romantic plea, “If I Needed You.”
Hits were afoot, too, as Lovett dished out “If I had a Boat” and encores of “She’s No Lady” and “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas).” While most of us aren’t from the Lone Star state, we sure do like the music, as represented by this tall, witty, and wise drink of Texan water.