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MUSIC REVIEW

Lovett and his band stir the congregation

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / November 9, 2009

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Lyle Lovett closed his splendid sold-out show at the Orpheum Theatre Friday night with the raucous country gospel outburst “Church.’’ But the long, tall Texan’s entire 2 1/2-hour performance felt like the best kind of soul-stirring church service, full of joy, solemnity, reverence, and contemplation.

There’s rarely any other outcome when Lovett convenes his Large Band. The 14 players are all virtuosos in their own right, but always serve the greater good of the song and the communal spirit of a live performance.

The dapper Lovett was in his usual wry good spirits while leading the band through his dynamic catalog of pensive, folky mood pieces (“Empty Blue Shoes’’), comic country blues romps (“What Do You Do’’), and bursts of rock fire (“It’s Rock and Roll’’). Early fan favorites like “L.A. County,’’ “If I Had a Boat,’’ and “Here I Am’’ worked their way into a set laden with tracks from Lovett’s recently released, mostly covers album, “Natural Forces.’’

All were topped by Lovett’s assured vocals and unerring sense of arrangement for different configurations of his band. The bluegrass quartet gathered around the microphone for the hilarious ode to food adultery, “Pantry,’’ and the wistful romantic jaunt “Up in Indiana’’ was one of the night’s best breakdowns.

Each member of the group could easily be singled out for his impeccable playing, but special kudos must go to the crack quartet of backing vocalists. Whether they were clucking with goofy gusto on the funky-silly “Farmer Brown/ Chicken Reel’’ or summoning ghostly, shiver-inducing harmonies during the funereal “I Will Rise Up / Ain’t No More Cane’’ they brought a soulful depth to the proceedings. Lovett turned interviewer at one point, asking each man about his musical background, which drew some of the night’s biggest laughs with their stories and his quick responses to them.

By the time Lovett got to “Church’’ the Orpheum congregation was on its feet singing along, giving praise for a great night of music.

LYLE LOVETT and his Large Band

At: the Orpheum Theatre,

Friday

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