|photo by Kelly Swift|
A version of my review originally appeared at soundcheck.ocregister.com
Infusing a setlist with fresh material can often have positive results. Case in point: Dwight Yoakam’s thoroughly satisfying concert at City National Grove of Anaheim.
During 2010's Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival in Lake Elsinore, the veteran Los Angeles-based singer/guitarist/actor/entrepreneur seemed to be going through the motions.
Now with excellent album “3 Pears” – his first all-new studio effort in seven years – to pull from, the current show has a sharper vitality.
Yoakam recently told No Depression magazine, “I finally made a record that [is] as cow punk as people said I was.” That’s a slight exaggeration, but some tracks on “3 Pears” (the title was inspired by a photo of John Lennon wearing three pairs on glasses) do have more of a “take charge” attitude than his efforts from the 2000s. The younger crop of musicians Yoakam collaborated with (Beck, Kid Rock, Pistol Annies’ Ashley Monroe, Jason Falkner of Jellyfish) also factor into it.
“Take Hold of My Hand,” the first of seven new songs performed on Thursday, opened the nearly two-hour performance on an ebullient note. It verged on power pop territory and boasted high flying group harmonies. SoCal lead guitarist Eugene Edwards, who put out his own independent power pop album gem (2005’s “My Favorite Revolution”), was obviously happy to be onstage and dispatched one tasteful guitar solo after another.
Three of the four backing musicians wore sparkling coats; Yoakam was clad in his trademark blue jean attire and cowboy hat and mostly played acoustic guitar. The venue was fairly full and fans packed into the general admission pit section were well-behaved. Some couples tried to slow dance during the ballads despite a noticeable lack of elbow room.
Half the 28 songs were barreled through with barely a pause between them. The band’s secret weapon was Brian Whelan; he played multiple instruments and provided sweet vocal support (a function he and bassist Jonathan Clark also handled in the studio).
Although Yoakam admitted to being “loopy” and nursing a cold, but it wasn’t too detrimental on his voice, other than more flattened enunciations than usual. A Yoakam gig would feel incomplete without at least one Elvis Presley cover. This evening, it was the sinewy Pomus/Shuman-penned “Little Sister.”
The chart topping take on Buck Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield” featured some fine accordion work from Whelan. When it came to the place in the lyrics where Yoakam sang “spent some time in…,” he inserted “Santa Ana” (perhaps a nod to playing the Crazy Horse back in the day?), then changed it to “Anaheim.” Massive cheers erupted.
Immediately following was another tribute to his idol, the galloping “Turn it On, Turn it Up, Turn Me Loose.” Here, Edwards ably switched to mandolin for a quick solo then went back to electric guitar to continue the twangy sounds.
A rap roarin’ cover of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” (modeled after the old Flatt & Scruggs version; The Mavericks’ Eddie Perez played lead guitar on “3 Pears”) sizzled and was a concert highlight.
Referring to the song while starting the Hank Williams style ballad “Nothing’s Changed Here,” Yoakam quipped, “we can’t keep going that fast all night long.” The entire band replicated the “ooh wah” vocalizations done by women on the recorded version of “Pocket of a Clown” with ease.
Right before doing “3 Pears,” Yoakam responded to a loud guy in the audience who kept shouting for some obscurity and said, “I knew I should’ve left you in the car.” The song itself was a strident Springsteen-ish, mid-tempo rocker with prominent keyboards that could’ve fit on The Boss’ “Tunnel of Love.”
Organ-drenched, slow burn country rocker “Fast as You,” found the band pulling out all the stops. Mitch Marine’s stomping drums and Edwards’ wailing guitar solo closed the main set on a high note.
Come encore time, the raggedly aggressive “A Heart Like Mine” had an early Rolling Stones vibe and the musicians went on another tear for Dave Alvin’s “Long White Cadillac.”
Dwight Yoakam, City National Grove of Anaheim, Dec. 13, 2012
Setlist: Take Hold of My Hand/Please, Please Baby/Little Sister/Streets of Bakersfield/Turn it On, Turn it Up, Turn Me Loose/Blame the Vain/Close Up the Honky Tonks/Waterfall/Rock it All Away/Always Late With Your Kisses/If There Was a Way/Things Change/Ring of Fire/Dim Lights, Thick Smoke/Nothing’s Changed Here/Pocket of a Clown/The Heart That You Own/This Time/3 Pears/Trying/Honky Tonk Man/A Thousand Miles From Nowhere/It Only Hurts When I Cry/Little Ways/Guitars, Cadillacs/Fast As You
Encore: A Heart Like Mine/Long White Cadillac