Dwight Yoakam is a honky-tonk man, and he really can't seem to stop (touring, that is), and country fans are lucky for it.
The cool country cat rolled into the First Interstate Center for the Arts Sunday for his long-delayed headlining show, and he blended homages to some of his idols with killer original songs to great effect, backed by a four-piece band of ace players with the chops to rip out all the styles Yoakam touches on in his music, from rockabilly ("Little Sister") to power ballads ("You're The One"), traditional country ("Keep on the Sunny Side") to even doo-wop ("Pocket of a Clown").
Despite some early issues only noticeable to the audience who were watching Yoakam chastise one of his roadies, the show ran smoothly over the course of nearly two hours, with the singer and his charges blending one song promptly into the next except when he wanted to pause and chat up the crowd with stories of hanging on Willie Nelson's bus or pawning his equipment back in his club days.
And, like most artists who've managed to hit the road this year after more than a year of pandemic-forced cancellations and delays, Yoakam said he was incredibly happy to be here.
"Thank you for letting us get back to living life," Yoakam said after an opening run through a hyper-charged "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Please, Please Baby," "Little Sister" and "Streets of Bakersfield."
"We all have to stay safe and stay sane, but we do need to get back to living," Yoakam added.
Few could argue with the sentiment, although it was frustrating to see the lack of mask enforcement at an indoor show that also didn't require proof of vaccine or negative tests. It's going to be hard for a lot of us to get back to living until a lot more of us stop acting like COVID can't kill us.
One of the great things about Yoakam is that while he's as authentic a hardcore country artist as there is, there's no real discerning his politics from his public statements or his music. He doesn't waste time waving flags or taking shots at politicians; he'd rather give his audiences a massive dose of country both old and new.
He did just that Sunday, dedicating a significant part of his set to Merle Haggard songs ("The Bottle Let Me Down," "Swinging Doors," "Okie from Muskogee") and a song by Ray Wylie Hubbard about Haggard, "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." In doing so, he talked about Haggard's Oklahoma background, and the part of California the legend moved to as a traveling "Okie."
Shortly after the musical history lesson, Yoakam and his band cranked into a relentless string of hits, song after song of some of the best country performances of the past three decades: "Gone (That'll Be Me)," "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose," "Little Ways," "Honky Tonk Man," "Guitars, Cadillacs" and more.
By the time he wound up his main set with a raucous "Fast As You," Yoakam had proved once again that he is one stellar live performer, delivering a sound that will simply never go out of style for anyone with a taste for twang.