There is no doubt in my mind that Dwight Yoakam is the smoothest crooner in country music today, and that Pete Anderson is one of country’s best guitar players. I’ve been a fan of Yoakam for over 10 years but had never seen him until this show.
Current country hitmaker David Ball, previously a member of the much-missed Austin country-jazz-swing trio Uncle Walt’s Band, opened the show with a respectable set of radio-ready tunes for the lace-up-roper crowd. Underneath Ball’s starched-perfect image and Nashville polish is a solid base of well-sung country songs.
Yoakam took the stage at about 9:30 and promptly raced into a set of well-played but predictable hits, covering the highlights from his entire catalog. There aren’t a lot of frills to a Yoakam show — just the band, a couple of screens playing his various videos, and a few sampled horns and backing vocals. The real highlights of evening didn’t come until encore time. A pair of smoking covers — Bill Monroe’s “The Road Is Rocky” and the Blasters’ “Long White Cadillac” — ended the evening with what I’d been longing for: a rawer and more sincere performance.
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, my uncle used to take me to see Hank Williams Jr. for my birthday every year. I treasure the memories of those shows. Hank didn’t give a damn what anybody anywhere thought of him, especially the Nashville crowd. He just wanted to have a good time. He always did, and so did the audience.
At the Erwin Center, everyone seemed to have a good time except for one person: Yoakam himself. The band was good, he sang well, but the spark just was not there. It felt like an evening of Dwight by the numbers. Yoakam has built a career by challenging the standards of a stagnant industry. I just wish he’d have brought a little more of that energy to this performance.