in performance: dwight yoakam

dwight yoakam 2

dwight yoakam.

As he barreled into the Tex Mex drive of Streets of Bakersfield last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond, Dwight Yoakam took a detour. Actually, he took several.

When the song (initially a Buck Owens single from 1973 that Yoakam made a hit out of again in 1988) referenced how its protagonist “spent some time in San Francisco,” the performance halted as if there was a technical glitch. Then, over and over again, Yoakam inserted the names of the Eastern Kentucky locales frequented during his childhood into the verse. Corbin, Prestonsburg, Pike County and Floyd County all got nods before the singer ended by honoring Richmond and then moving on.

It was a nice homecoming touch for a master country stylist that has made the most out of going Hollywood, his adopted home since the ‘80s. The show, as a whole, was intensely electric, borrowing from post punk bred in Los Angeles (which fortified the encore version of Dave Alvin’s Long White Cadillac) and big beat pop accents that reached back into the ‘60s (the atomic Roy Orbison strut of Fast as You). But there were also varying displays of vintage honky tonk that shifted from Charlie Rich style reflection (as in the piano colors Bryan Whelan provided Heart of Stone) to serious barroom guitar twang (underscored by the mighty ensemble rumble of Little Sister).

There were also several fun instances where all these sounds and styles rear ended each other, as if on a joyride on the L.A. Freeway. A case in point: a thick, thundering makeover of Ring of Fire that sounded less like Johnny Cash and more like T. Rex.

At several points during the show, Yoakam asserted to his home state crowd that the newer songs performed from his 3 Pears album were, at their core, elemental extensions of his Kentucky roots. That was essentially true, although the show-opening Take Hold of My Hand sounded less like Appalachia and more like the Dave Clark Five (which, frankly, was just fine). But he also playfully used the explanation as a default clause, citing that the audience’s kinship to his songs’ stylistic influences might trigger some performance pandemonium.

“If I get carried away tonight,” he told the EKU crowd, “I’m going to blame it all on you.”

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