|photo by Robert Kinsler|
Dwight Yoakam took a stroll down memory lane on Thursday night which helped make for a mighty fine concert at the City National Grove of Anaheim.
“It’s a pleasure to play so close to home,” he said. “Long Beach is not Orange County, but always felt like it was when I lived there years and years ago. I should play songs I wrote in a little place in Long Beach.”
Then the singer/guitarist proceeded to do a stretch of songs from his 1986 debut LP “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” – the first of three platinum selling Billboard Country chart-topping albums in a row.
Yoakam initially came to prominence during the Eighties roots rock scene in L.A. alongside The Blasters, Los Lobos, X offshoot The Knitters, Lone Justice and others. He’d notch more than two dozen top 40 country chart singles over the next decade.
During the ‘90s, a simultaneous acting career was also launched and still continues today: a recurring role on the second season of “Under the Dome,” the CBS sci-fi series based on a novel by Stephen King, started this summer. Yoakam’s new single cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (available on iTunes) played in one episode.
At The Grove, many fans sported cowboy hats and ornate shirts. Some couples in the general admission pit area danced throughout the evening. The stage was tastefully illuminated by three sets of descending globe lights.
Clad in his traditional blue jean jacket (adorned with glittery playing card symbols on back) and white cowboy hat, Yoakam and his top-notch, four-piece band (also in shimmering attire) kicked the rousing O.C. concert off with “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke.”
It was first among a trio of tunes from 2012’s “3 Pears,” a strong, critically acclaimed album that features such contributors as Kid Rock, Beck, Ashley Monroe and Jason Falkner. The career spanning Grove set ran just under two hours.
Yoakam’s twangy hit cover of the Elvis Presley-popularized “Little Sister” saw him do a trademark sidestep shuffle while strumming a guitar. With Brian Whelan providing sumptuous accordion work on the remake of his boss' idol (and duet partner) Buck Owens’ hit “Streets of Bakersfield,” the singer humorously stopped the song dead in its tracks to add some local color.
Streets of Santa Ana became Orange, then Long Beach and when Yoakam got to Anaheim, he noted about the venue’s next door neighbor, “I think it should still be called the California Angels.” Later Yoakam would joke about his guitar stance in relation to The Blasters.
Speaking of Owens, another tribute came within the fine Johnny Cash-styled “Turn it On, Turn it Up, Turn Me Loose.” After dazzling electric guitarist Eugene Edwards switched to mandolin for a quick solo, the band segued into a bit of Owens’ instrumental “Buckaroo” and “Act Naturally.” They'd often play without a break between songs.
After the fast-paced “I’ll Be Gone,” Yoakam looked toward his lyric sheet stand and admitted, “sometimes you remember ‘em, sometimes you don’t.” Then, staying in a reflective mood, Yoakam recalled driving down the 710 freeway to a dead-end job.
Though Yoakam sometimes veered into a slurred enunciation style, his hiccup vocals were much stronger here than other SoCal performances in recent years. Bolstered by Whelan and bassist Jonathan Clarke, the harmonies on newer tracks like the lean, keyboard-heavy “Waterfall” and “Rock it All Away” were stellar. The latter’s Sixties influenced, organ-drenched, triple electric guitar thrust had a nod to Tommy James & the Shondells and was a highlight.
Other standouts included an enrapturing “South of Cincinnati,” the sinewy guitars of Grammy-winning weeper “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” (prompting female fans to howl), Edwards’ clean guitar solo spotlight on “Guitars, Cadillacs” (played twice), riveting ballad “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and the stomping, Roy Orbison-esque main set closer, “Fast as You.”
Finally, Yoakam and the band did two of his popular interpretations: “Ring of Fire” and “Suspicious Minds” in quick, efficient fashion - just like many of the other selections.
Setlist: Dim Lights, Thick Smoke/Please Please Baby/Little Sister/Streets of Bakersfield/Turn it On, Turn it Up, Turn Me Loose>Buckaroo>Act Naturally/Blame the Vain/It Won’t Hurt>Today I Started Loving You Again/I’ll Be Gone/South of Cincinnati/Miner’s Prayer/Guitars, Cadillacs/Waterfall/Rock it All Away/Ain’t That Lonely Yet/Who’ll Stop the Rain/Only Want You More/Heart of Stone/Always Late with Your Kisses/If There Was a Way/Things Change/This Time/Honky Tonk Man/A Thousand Miles From Nowhere/It Only Hurts When I Cry/Little Ways/Guitars, Cadillacs/Fast as You/Ring of Fire/Suspicious Minds