Saturday, August 02, 2003

The Boat to Ensenada

The Festival Pier at Penn's Landing is a wonderful place to see a show. The stage is practically on the riverbank, so as you face it, you can turn to the right and see the clean azure lines of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge arcing over the Delaware River toward Camden.

Yes, it's a wonderful place to see a show, unless it's raining and windy and 70 degrees. Then it becomes a potentially wonderful place to see a show.

Such was the case Thursday night. Penn's Landing was a swirl of wind and rain, though that didn't stop us from venturing out to see what was billed as Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. Perhaps cotton t-shirts aren't the only thing that shrink in the wash; the Large Band ended up being a percussionist, a guy on an upright bass, and a guy on a bass fiddle. (Also muted was Lovett's signature, Krameresque hair; he looked weirdly restrained.)

No matter. A mere nine rows from the stage, we gutted it out for an hour, shivering under out umbrella nearly the entire time, and were rewarded with a intimate performance marked by Lovett's unexpectedly strong voice and incredibly charming manner.

Comfortably dressed in a long-sleeve white shirt and jeans, Lovett opened the show with some of his more traditionally country tunes and some stuff from Step Inside this House, his tribute to Texas songwriters. While we were there, he delved into The Road to Ensenada once, for the sly "Her First Mistake," and bounced through a favorite of mine, "If I Had a Boat."

In between songs, Lovett displayed a relaxed, humorous bent, accepting with graciousness the beery shouts of those requesting songs -- the venue was close enough that the requests could be heard easily -- and several times offering sympathy to the drenched crowd. He's a legitimately funny fellow, a trait evidenced by his records and emphasized by Thursday's show; anyone who can't understand what Julia Roberts saw in him obviously hasn't heard him play.

We tried like hell to last as long as we could, but at long last the weather got the better of us. In younger days we would have attempted to stick it out for the duration, but on this night, 60 minutes of professional, amusing, accomplished showmanship had to do. I hope Lovett comes around again, soon, because his show deserves to be experienced in its entirety.


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