Dwight Yoakam Gas Monkey Live May 1, 2015
Whether it's a response to the filth that fills radio airwaves or just general nostalgia, country music from the 1990s is very much making a place for itself in the genre's modern iteration. Comebacks from Reba McEntire, Lee Ann Womack and Shania Twain all point to this trend, though most of those artists seem to have updated their sound. For Dwight Yoakam, though, who just released perhaps his best record to date and passed through Dallas for a show at Gas Monkey Live on Friday night, things have all but stayed the same since the 1990s.
As was evidenced on Friday, Yoakam has certainly aged, but he looks very much like the same hillbilly that made it big in the late 1980s. Dressed in his signature denim jacket and impossibly tight jeans, Yoakam has not changed a single thing about his aesthetic. Even that signature knee-over-leg dance move that so many women find irresistible is the same, and it is still very irresistible. What has changed, though, is Yoakam's status. Before he was just one of the best artists in country music. Now he is a legend.
He drove that point home as he launched into "Little Sister," the Elvis Presley song that he revived in 1987. His version has always been better than The King's -- a contention worth sparking a bar fight -- and performed live, it is even more impressive. As Yoakam scoot-danced across the stage in his characteristic way, he was as energetic as ever in both his playing and performance. The interplay with his band, a dapper crew in nostalgic sequined jackets, seemed to produce more intense playing as they worked through 30 years of Yoakam's best tunes.
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After playing a few classics, Yoakam launched into "Dreams of Clay" from his latest release. A vocally challenging track, Yoakam showed off his pipes and that uncanny ability to make a track deeply emotional. If you'd recently been done wrong, nobody would've blamed you if you'd shed a few tears during this ultimately pretty uplifting track. A performance of "Second Hand Heart" somehow managed to top the perfection that Yoakam and his band recorded on the album, and was arguably one of the best performances of the night.
Another highlight was "Liar," also from the new record. At points, this song also has some punk moments, which are further intensified in a live performance. The guitar (and harmonica, for that matter) playing on this track was incredible, and Yoakam's energy only intensified the energy that was just being blasted from the stage. Even if you were standing all the way at the back of the fully packed venue, you still thoroughly got your face blown off.
Which may have something to do with just how excellent the sound at Gas Monkey Live really is. As one of Dallas' newest venues, there were a lot of expectations for Gas Monkey Live, and the car-loving dudes behind it really exceeded them. Whatever sound system they've installed is incredibly crisp and clear, so much so that many of the tracks that Yoakam performed sounded better than they do on the record, no matter how damn good your speakers are. If you've been hesitant to attend a show here for any reason, your concerns are completely unfounded -- the sound makes paying too much for a beer entirely worth it.
It seemed that the crowd may have missed some of the show's more nuanced moments because of their enthusiasm, though. When Yoakam performed a thoroughly old-country version of "Ring Of Fire" minus the mariachi, it seemed that the audience didn't catch on until about halfway through that he was performing the Johnny Cash classic. It was also a little weird and surreal to watch couples nuzzle and slow-dance to "I Sang Dixie," a song about singing "Dixie" to an old man as he's dying.
Yoakam closed out his set with the classics, ending with rousing, crowd-pleasing renditions of "Honky Tonk Man," "Guitars, Cadillacs" and "Fast As You," probably his most recognizable tracks. After years of playing those songs over and over, though, it seems as if he still really enjoys performing them. What could have been a boring, begrudging finale was just as energetic as the beginning of the set, and was the perfect way to scratch that nostalgia itch for people who grew up listening to Yoakam.
After a quick off-stage break, Yoakam and his band came back out for a quick encore, which was a blend of the old and the new. He played "The Big Time" from his latest record, the old Ralph Stanley bluegrass tune "The Miner's Prayer," and of course "Suspicious Minds," also an Elvis Presley cover that has surpassed the original. Once it was over, it seemed as if he was gone as soon as he appeared, and the audience certainly would've stuck around to hear more from an artist that hasn't been around Dallas (proper, anyway) in a really long time.
Compared to other country shows (and there will be many great ones in Dallas and beyond this year) Dwight Yoakam at Gas Monkey Live was really the best that you can hope for in a honky-tonk music show. Here's hoping that's enough to keep Dwight making music -- and coming back to Dallas -- for years to come.
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