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LOVETT AND HIS LARGE BAND DRAW LEGIONS IN DEER VALLEY

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It's hard to say why three times as many people as last year came to see Lyle Lovett at Deer Valley Sunday night.

Were they hoping to see his new bride, Julia Roberts? Did they want to see if he's as odd-looking as the supermarket tabloids say? Or were they just loyal followers of He Who's Wedded to Pretty Woman?But alas, despite no confirmed Julia Roberts sightings, the crowd got a pretty great, large show, from the opening "Stand By Your Man" (complete with an introduction from a bad excuse for a transvestite) to the two encores two hours later.

The large-haired Lovett and His Large Band - decked out in early-Beatles suit-and-white-shirt fashion - played some two dozen songs. His Texas-country themes strayed off regularly into gospel, jazz and blues.

Comprised of four saxophone players, two percussionists, a pianist, a keyboardist, a cellist, a bass player, a lead guitarist and four soulful gospel singers, the Large Band provided a rich background for Lovett's avant-garde country style.

Not that Lovett needs all that cover. His work is some of the most creative in pop music today. His songs are at one moment simple and elegant, then poignant and provocative, then whimsically hilarious.

Though some have accused him of misogyny with songs such as "You Can Have My Girl But Don't Touch My Hat" and "She's No Lady (She's My Wife)," he seems penitent. "This song," he says of the latter, "is to prove that everything I've written about the opposite sex was done out of ignor-ance."

Ah, see what marriage will do to you, Lyle?

He was equally comic on "Give Back My Heart" (the pickup redneck woman song); "I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You," a song, he says in deadpan, is about "getting married for all the wrong reasons but having it work out OK"; "She Wasn't Good But She Had Good Intentions"; "Since the Last Time Somebody Died"; and "If I Had a Boat."

Like any good country band leader, Lovett took care of his ensemble, allowing each member to show his or her stuff.

The singers - Robert Eldredge, Willy Green Jr., the Rev. Everett Drake and Francine Lee - were powerful on "Since the Last Time," "Church" and "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues," which included a vocal solo by Lee, along with guitar and sax solos by Pete Snell and Harvey Thompson.

The crowd came to its feet on a "When It Happens to You," which turned into a free-jazz jam session where even the cello was turned loose.

Lovett quickly calmed the audience down with two introspective love ballads, "North Dakota" and "She's Already Made Up Her Mind."

Though he didn't come out and say it, you've got to assume his two encores, "She's Hot to Go" and "She Makes Me Feel Good," were dedicated to "Fiona," which is his new wife's middle name.

Julia, as they say out here in the West, you done good.