Dwight Yoakam at Arena Theatre, 12/20/2013

Photo by Jason Wolter
Dwight at Sam Houston Race Park, May 2013
But distractions -- and there were many -- aside, the main message was that Yoakam is at the top of his game right now, and seems to thoroughly enjoy a serious workout with a tight, small band that knows few limits. Everyone in Yoakam's band is busy every second, especially drummer Mitch Marine, who often taps out rhythms that provide a segue to the next song while Yoakam and lead picker Eugene Edwards change instruments.

One reason the band knows few limits is utility man Brian Whelan, who stays in the background where he alternates constantly between rhythm guitar, piano, accordion, maracas, and steel guitar. That flexibility and musicianship allows Yoakam to incorporate textures and nuances that were key to his recordings while maintaining a small unit. The harmonies were hauntingly brilliant, a class above, with Whelan, Marine, and bassist Jonathan Clark providing Yoakam with Eagles-quality backup.

A master of set lists and pace, Yoakam ramped the rock and excitement level to all-night highs as he closed a two-hour set -- he hadn't even taken a drink of water -- when he tipped his hat to Texas with Lefty Frizzell's "Always Late," staggered jerkily into his own "It Only Hurts Me When I Cry" and followed up with a stinging back-to-back-to-back threesome of big hits, "Little Ways," "Guitars Cadillacs Etc.," and a fires-of-Hell version of "Fast As You," which brought the crowd to its feet in tribal frenzy.

The encore was a crowd-pleaser of seasonal songs including Elvis's "Blue Christmas," "Merry Christmas, Pretty Baby," and a rocking take on Chuck Berry's "Run, Rudolph, Run." Yoakam kept the energy high, but it was also time to let the air out of the room and make an escape. Mission accomplished.

Yoakam is currently at a level of intensity virtually unrivaled in what must now be called Americana rather than country since country music has soiled its pants with the new country of Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, and other glorified hacks. Yoakam backs up to none of the kings of Americana like Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller, Mumford and Sons, or Avett Brothers either. Really, you want to follow this guy on a live show? Bring your fire extinguisher, 'cause Jerry Lee's probably gonna blowtorch the piano.

It really did recall the old Urban Cowboy glory days at Gilley's, the drunks, the goofballs, the twanged-up excitement, everyone "lookin' for love in all the wrong places." I don't think I would've batted an eye if Yoakam had ended with Mickey Gilley's monster hit, "Don't the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time?" With this crowd, you had to hope so.

Personal Bias: Yoakam has never gotten the credit he deserves as a practitioner of cowpunk. As noted above, he can kick a bunch of rock bands' asses.

The Crowd: See above.

Random Notebook Dump: Maybe never in the history of humans -- outside a Cult concert or a retired stripper's convention -- has there been so much jiggling on so many torsos. The only saving grace was that Christmas sweaters were at a minimum, replaced for the evening by leather, pleather, suede, rhinestones, and enough bling to make Jared jealous.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Sit your drunk ass down."


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Location Info



Arena Theatre

7326 SW Freeway, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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MadMac topcommenter

This reads fantastic. I read a review of an early show--'88 or so--where Mr. Yoakam staggered onto the stag mumbled through one song and face planted. It's nice to read a review of a working band that works to give the audience their money's worth. Good stuff, Mr. Smith. 

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