Lyle Lovett and his Large Band opened for Rickie Lee Jones at Wolf Trap Saturday night, but it should have been the other way around. Lovett's droll, brassy and typically idiosyncratic set seemed unforgivably brief, even though it lasted about 75 minutes, while Jones's performance was utterly anticlimactic.
There were times, though, when even Lovett appeared to be on the verge of being upstaged. Halfway through the show, his fiery background singer, Francine Reed, stole the spotlight and the crowd's hearts with a torrid version of "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues." On several vibrantly harmonized songs and duets, including "Here I Am" and "What Do You Do/The Glory of Love," Reed also proved to be the perfect, down-to-earth foil for the otherworldly Lovett and his offbeat musings. And while Lovett's punchy, horn-powered ensemble was especially geared up for those songs and others from his current album, the lanky, soft-spoken Texan quietly revived some of his older, simpler and affecting country songs as well.
Jones's performance wasn't nearly as intimate or as moving as her visit to the Bayou a couple of months back, though it covered much of the same ground -- everything from "Chuck E's in Love" to several tunes from her current album, "Flying Cowboys." For starters, she seemed distracted -- and sometimes justifiably so -- by a number of things, including an "out-of-tune" piano, several lighting gaffes and some of the more rowdy responses from the "goofy" crowd.
The lighting miscues proved particularly jarring when Jones sat at the edge of the stage to perform the pop standard that usually punctuates her shows -- in this case "Something Cool." The sultry moodiness of the tune and the singer's composure were fractured by a sudden bolt of light. At other times her reedy, girlish, jazz tinged-voice seemed so high-pitched and hornlike that the words to some of her best songs were hopelessly lost in the band's colorfully percussive arrangements.