MUSIC / Texas ranger: Jasper Rees on Lyle Lovett at the Royal Festival Hall

Click to follow
Lyle Lovett is from Texas, and he tells you so in his songs. As a result, he has been dubbed a country singer, but at Saturday's concert at the Royal Festival Hall, he was more like a one- man musical encyclopaedia.

Various permutations of his 15-strong band filtered on and off stage, so that he could do lounge jazz and slow blues with a double-bass, cello and fiddle behind him, a lyrical set with a classical string quartet, and all shades of R & B, gospel and soul accompanied by a trio of horns and a world-beating vocal line-up including Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens. There was a spot of avant-garde thrown in, and a solo ballad to prove that Lovett didn't need this great retinue. In name, the venue felt about right; there was enough variety here to fill a whole festival.

At the centre of it all, Lovett was forever the pointy, jointy woodentop in the suit and tie and toppling haircut. Quite late on, he told a story in his, er, um, diffident manner about a friend who melted down her granny's gold tooth and had it made into a ring, 'which I thought was pretty weird'. If Lyle Lovett says it's weird, then it's weird. Promptly, he sang 'Creeps Like Me' a song from the new album.

When he sings without a guitar, he folds his arms self- protectively. He does his whole spiel about pretending to be cooler than he is, about wanting skinny legs and a baby face and not getting enough. He made his first speech in the dark, which is taking self-effacement to its logical limit. But all this is done with more irony than is found in your average Texan. With Mrs Lovett ('that girl I know') waving her arms about in the audience, the portrait of the guy who never gets lucky doesn't cut a whole lot of ice.

In a set of 30 songs, most of the new album I Love Everybody was on view; an accomplished cocktail of sweet melodies and sour lyrics. 'Record Lady', 'Old Friend' and 'Ain't it Something' testify to Lovett's profound resourcefulness as a songwriter. Some of the songs are funny ('She's No Lady'), some sad; 'If I Had a Boat' is a slice of wishful thinking, with Lovett tugging mournfully on the top strings of his guitar. Among the album's oddities, a lilting song with such absurd lyrics - 'Fat babies have no pride', it goes - that no one dares sing along. It snags you, though, and even here you just have to hum, albeit silently.

Behind Lovett's strong, adaptable baritone, the hugely impressive band, or bands, kept themselves on a tight leash. There are too many to applaud, but John Hagan's cello was a shocking treat, while Champ Hood's fiddle was the only instrumental reminder that Lovett comes from where he sings about.

In 'I've Been to Memphis', Lovett gave his paean to Texas, but he is no mere country singer. Having absorbed so much of American musical culture, Lovett is in a category of his own. There's only one creep like him.

(Photograph omitted)