Live: Dwight Yoakam at Thunder Valley Casino
With his last album of original material five years past, Dwight Yoakam came to the new outdoor amphitheater at Northern California’s Thunder Valley Casino with nothing but good country music to promote. Whether owing to the newness of the venue–Lionel Richie had broken ground there just two days prior–or the plethora of entertainment options on a July 4th weekend, the Saturday night show was somewhat sparsely attended: perhaps half of the 4,800 seats were filled when Yoakam made his first appearance just before 9pm.
No matter, this most adventurous of ’80s neotraditionalists owned the crowd from the moment he strutted onstage in his trademark skin-tight jeans, Western jacket (red, no rhinestones), and white cowboy hat. In an era of back-up dancers and flying convertibles, his no-frills performance showed impressive faith in the simple, enduring power of good music. In fact, up until the encore, Yoakam had spoken only twice, and those were quick expressions of admiration for Buck Owens and the Cashes by way of introducing covers of “Streets of Bakersfield” and “Ring of Fire.” For most of the night, he communicated only through lyrics and inflections, each song rolling right into the next. What little spectacle there was came from his dance moves: Elvis-inspired hip swivels, toe twists, full-body spins, and limbo squats that would split the painted-on britches of a lesser man. I have no idea how he can still pull these off and look as cool as he does doing them.
Predictably, up-tempo favorites “Little Sister” and “Fast As You” had the crowd at their most demonstrative, but Yoakam connected just as truly in the quieter moments offered by daringly downcast (for a summer concert series, anyway) numbers like “If There Was a Way,” “Things Change,” and “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere.”
As befits a man who has made a practice of reviving old classics on his albums, Yoakam devoted more than a third of the show to covers of one sort or another. To his credit, even as he covered sources ranging from Waylon Jennings (“Stop the World and Let Me Off”) and Johnny Horton (“Honky Tonk Man”) to The Bee Gees (“To Love Somebody”) and The Blasters (“Long White Cadillac”) on Saturday night, he sounded always himself, always fully and knowingly in command of the balance he was striking.
The 53-year-old singer got plenty of support from his heavily rhinestoned backing band, featuring former Maverick Eddie Perez on lead guitar, Jonathan Clark on bass, barefoot Mitch Marine on drums, and a talented fellow named Brian Whelan switch-hitting on keyboard, steel guitar, and tambourine. As the crowd dispersed into the parking lots around 10:30, the excitement was as palpable as if they’d just spent the last 90 minutes with Elvis. In a way, they almost had.
“Please, Please Baby”
“Under Your Spell Again”
“Streets of Bakersfield”
“Blame the Vain”
“Love Caught Up to Me”
“What Do You Know About Love”
“If There Was a Way”
“Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose”
“Ring of Fire”
“I Hear You Knocking”
“Pocket of a Clown”
“Suspicious Minds” (excerpt)
“To Love Somebody”
“Stop the World and Let Me Off”
“Distance Between You and Me”
“Honky Tonk Man”
“Thousand Miles from Nowhere”
“This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me”
“It Won’t Hurt”
“It Only Hurts When I Cry”
“Fast As You”
“Since I Started Drinking Again”
“Long White Cadillac”
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