Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friendship like Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen’s. In 1976 Lovett happened to pull up in front of the house where Keen and his friends were picking guitars on the front stoop, and the rest is history. Today, the two legends occupy the stage with the ease and genuine joy that can only come from 40-plus years of shared history, shared creativity and long days spent together on the road.
Monday night’s show was as much about banter and storytelling as it was about playing music, which was just fine with me. With the two men seated side by side, flanked by end tables and a plethora of guitars, it felt more like a impromptu living room session than a sold-out show at the Wilma. The result was an intimate, casual performance — a setting in which singer-songwriters often shine.
I’ve seen both Lovett and Keen play with their full bands, and while those shows were fun, last night’s pared-down, acoustic approach was far more compelling. Stripped of their bands and the pretenses of showmanship, they offered a performance that felt honest and personal. It seemed like these were still the same two men who played songs and shared stories on that Texas stoop so many years ago, and their love of music is still clearly evident in their playing and delivery. When Lovett furrows his brow and sings, “Because she’s already made up her mind,” you feel that sorrow, because he still seems to. When Keen sings “Merry Christmas from the Family” (and the entire audience sings along), you laugh, because you can tell he still finds the lyrics funny.
The between-song banter ranged widely: Mishaps during family vacations in Mexico, stubborn horses, Keen’s intoxicated moment of inspiration in the parking lot at the Value Inn in Challis, Idaho. The tunes were mostly selected from the long list of crowd favorites, but rather than feel predictable, the setlist was augmented by their reflections on the songs themselves. For the final song they played “This Old Porch,” which each gives the other credit for writing. “These are songs we’ve aged into,” Keen said before they launched into the song. “We’re as old now as we were pretending to be when we wrote them!” Lovett agreed: “I never thought, in 1976, that we’d still be sitting here today.”