Long before he began filling concert halls and amphitheaters, the wonderfully wry country singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett was always welcome at the Birchmere. Saturday night he returned the favor with the first of four sold-out shows that featured an unusual acoustic lineup -- guitar, bass, cello and congas -- and tunes from all of his albums, plus some.
Actually, the lineup wasn't unusual as far as Lovett is concerned. Although he's spent the past two years touring with his brass-powered Large Band, he's worked frequently with bassist Matt McKenzie, cellist John Hagen and percussionist James Cooper in various settings.
If the evening held a surprise it was the ease with which the quartet adapted Large Band arrangements, with Hagen's bowed cello often filling in for the horns, but overall it was the countrified chamber group intimacy the group brought to "If I Were the Man You Wanted," "God Will" and other, older songs that made the show so memorable.
Along the way, Lovett also found time to cover some songs by some of his Texas cronies, including a heartfelt version of Townes Van Zandt's "Flying Shoes," and slowed down Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" so that it was impossible to miss its humor, romance and wordplay.