Live at the Varsity Theatre, Baton Rouge, 11/16/05
Live from Autsin, TX
On the day before:
Thanks to your copious commentary on my previous review, you helped put Outsideleft on the map, up in the strata of eCulture titans like Salon and The Onion, giving those hacks a taste of some of the People's Web Content. I salute you for it, even though it appears that a few of you seemed to think you were actually talking to Dwight in our comment section and, while I'm sure the love you show him shines brighter than the rhinestones on his Nudie jacket, I doubt he actually read them. But just in case, I'm going to print out a copy to show him should I be granted appointment with The Glam Prince of New Bakersfield.
No dice. The security around a big shot like Dwight is tighter than a roper's wranglers. On sartorial matters, I was hoping to see some country fan splendour in the crowd, like giant hats and Faith Hill cleavage, and while I'd say the gals are a category finer at this gig, the dress was pretty day to day, interspersed with with a few urban cowboys and a couple NASCAR aficionados in full regalia. Dwight's audience is an odd one: he's too out there for the average stadium country spectacle goer, but just a little too twangy fro much of the cow punk indie rocker who has come to accept he's supposed to love Hank III. Instead, it ran the gambit from the drunken gal from the office, to sweet old couples making a rare foray into the thick of humanity, to a perfectly coiffed gay couple in front of me, to an impossibly tall strong silent type cowpoke in an immaculate black hat and his plaid clad lady who stood Miles Standish proud to be there with the tallest most handsome man in the room. It was a beautiful cross section of people who were not fitting a demographic, but were just out to have a good time and bathe in the golden glow of Dwight.
The opening act, Monty Russell, was my kind of roots rock, a brace of 50+ fat guys with a pleasant demeanor and great stories and chops that could Ginsu any upstart to shreds. his guitarist, introduced as General Rusty White alone was worth the price of admission, with his years of road work layered like summer hot asphalt on the stretched of Highway 61 the band sings about. Everyone in the place exclaimed to the person next to them "That guitar player is fucking awesome!"
But the real awesomeness came in the form of Dwight himself: that giant head with even gianter hat perched atop and exquisite maroon suit with pink accents. Except for the encore, he played a straightforward looking acoustic Martin, while his lead guitarist Eddie Perez manned a band of Teles and Strats and quelled any dismay over the absence of longtime running partner Pete Anderson. He opened the show, amidst a cacophony of screaming women that punctuated the whole show, with The weirdest track on Blame the Vain "She'll Remember" including the Moog array and weird British accent into and then the abrupt shift into the glowing honky tonk that he's famous for. He worked most of his latest album in throughout the night, notably the cosmic cowboy anthem title track and a raucous "Intentional Heartache" in the encore.
While Dwight Yoakam is definitely one of the last great country traditionalists with some real market share, the thing that has always brought new converts to the fold has been his cover tunes, represented by a strident almost acoustic version of Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me", play to the peanut gallery of Johnny Horton's 'Battle of New Orleans" and populist splendour in the form of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" like he did in that GAP commercial years ago that you hated to admit your really liked. The beautiful thing about the Yoak is that he's not afraid to go there, to get corny and maudlin and tear jerky, except that he does it in a way that never makes your cringe. And I defy you to listen to any popular country act in rotation and not cringe. Dwight's aura of nostalgia for an era that most of us never experiences is so deftly projected, you start thinking about old girlfriends, old cars you had, times you did something stupid and spent a lot of effort regaining ground. Its great stuff. "1,000 Miles from Nowhere" made me just about cry it was so heavy with sadness and regret and redemption.
New West, as a part of its Austin City Limits reissue project, has reissued a live disc of his 1988 appearance while supporting his third album Buenos Noches from a Lonely Room. here Dwight has a higher twang and the stuff is much more down home and raw. A fiddle sways through the opening "Guitars and Cadillacs" basically his signature tune to the day. Like all the ACL reissues, this one is full of that hard-to-pin-down PBS sound. Its not like their act has been cleaned up, in fact, a lot of the luster a country act usually possesses is stripped away when taking that stage with the fabled fake skyline. Its like the Gen X Grand Ole Opry that still is chugging along as us in that unfortunately-named demographic get greyer and fatter and still want to be cool. But the gals screaming on "What I Don't Know" were the same as they were last night, and on both sets the best song was his other landmark song "Little Ways" last night it blasted open the sky with its jalapeno and honey suavity, here is rendered more as a shuffle. Also both night say radically different treatments "Streets of Bakersfield" last night being a dusty western slide guitar lotus, on the ACL session more of a rough around the edges mariachi session. And worth the price of the disc is his rendition of the greatest country song ever, Lefty Frizzell's "Always Late With Your Kisses" its such a perfect song that no one I've evr heard do it, from Jerry Garcia to Merle Haggard, can bear to tinker with its timeless honky tonk swing. And hearing nearly 20 years of development in his arrangement of "Little Sister" is cool, seeing how it became a young Elvis in Boots swagger in the early years to a velvet sledgehammer in later years. Dwight Yoakam can write some great goddamn songs, like no one treading similar waters as he can, and if you have any inclinations whatsoever in the Americana direction, at all, hie tail to a Dwight Yoakam show, you won't regret it.
Photo from the Beaumont, TX show courtesy of Miss Rosewater.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com