Country crooner Dwight Yoakam rocks and rolls for an intimate Paradise gig
The small lobby of the Paradise Performing Arts Center was packed with a talkative crowd featuring lots of cowboy hats, a few longhairs and punk rockers, university professors and at least one local judge—all anxiously awaiting this Thursday-night “Almost Alone” acoustic performance from country star Dwight Yoakam.
Patrons drank beer offered by a small Duffy’s table and whooped it up under the watchful gaze of Gary Burghoff nature prints while others caught opening duo Blue Ramblers, featuring Terry Leon and Eric Wraymond, playing an appropriately rootsy set of solid country songs before a half-full audience. The acoustically sound PPAC seats 767 people, and the high-profile show was definitely sold to capacity.
“Dwight is a class act,” noted local musician Danny West in passing. “He takes country music and makes it brand new again. … He ain’t no Lonesome Cowboy, though,” West laughed. By night’s end, I would beg to differ.
After about an hour, Yoakam appeared onstage to a roaring ovation. He wore an ornate baby-blue Western suit jacket, white Stetson hat and skintight faded denims that accented his long, chicken legs (least that’s what we called ’em in grade school). The stage set-up was simple: two chairs, two lamps and a bunch of guitars.
During the first few numbers, which included a catchy, bluegrass-tinged cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” wherein Yoakam found new layers of country yearning in the song’s churn of pop lyrics, women in the audience made their presence known, screaming often for the baby-faced crooner, whose eyes remained hidden all night by the shadows from his long-brimmed hat.
Accompanying Yoakam was Austin native and solo artist Keith Gattis, performing admirably on a number of different guitars, including banjo, mandolin, dobro, a big classic hollow-body electric and a twangy vintage Telecaster (as well as singing nice back-up harmonies). Together, the two laid down a classic roots country sound, updated by a willingness to rock every few numbers—as both men kicked up their heels occasionally and swiveled their hips in slow-moving, open kneed “duck walks” during several solos.
Yoakam’s voice was in fine form, offering deep, full-bodied lows and high lonesome half-yodels that reminded me of the yelp a dog makes when a screen door accidently hits her ass.
The whole 90-minute show had a candid feel to it, kind of like a VH1 Storytellers episode, as Yoakam took time during song introductions to explain a little about his own songwriting influences as he leafed randomly through sheet music.
Highlights of the evening were many, including several excellent covers: “Stop the World,” one of Waylon Jenning’s first hits that Yoakam recorded for an upcoming tribute album; the Graham Parsons/Chris Hillman classic “Wheels"; two John Prine numbers, “Paradise” (duh) and “Spanish Pipedream,” with its immortal chorus “Blow up your T.V.,/ throw away your paper/ go to the country/ build you a home/ plant a little garden/ eat a lot of peaches/ try to find Jesus/ on your own"; as well as some dark and lonely Johnny Horton classics that showed off Yoakam’s veteran honky-tonk skills.
Then of course, there were Yoakam’s own unique tunes, like the stirring (shades of Roy Orbison) “1000 Miles from Nowhere,” and “Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)"—modern day classics of lonely, contemplative country soul in their own right.
By the time the six-song encore (featuring the traditional "Dark Hollow") was over, a crowd of about 50 fans had convened before the stage to watch the last few slow-tempo numbers. All the while, Yoakam remained characteristically soft spoken, appreciative of the crowd’s love but very much a man of his craft. A feeling of solitude and whisky-drenched heartache seeming to suit him as fine as his baby-blue threads.