While in Nashville the debate over whether Dwight Yoakam plays real hillbilly or true hokum continues, Yoakam took his case to the people at the Warner Theater Tuesday night. After an hour set, the verdict, rendered by an exuberant audience in frenzied screams and shaking bodies, was one of unanimous approval for Yoakam's rocked-up honky-tonk and bluegrass sound.
Yoakam has recently had to replace both his rhythm section and guitar ace Pete Anderson. While the new band was less slick and fluid than its predecessor, Eddie Shaver's raw guitar work moved Yoakam's music a step closer to rock 'n' roll. In fact, take away Brantley Kearns' mountain fiddle and Yoakam's cowboy hat and you'd have one balding but very hot rockabilly star. Certainly Yoakam's viciously tight and strategically torn jeans and his hip-wiggling antics raised eyebrows in hillbilly heaven.
Despite Yoakam's hard country aspirations, he was still better at raising the roof than raising a tear. His sharp nasal delivery didn't create much emotional intimacy, a limitation especially telling in his version of George Jones' "The Grand Tour." Mostly, though, Yoakam laid on the twang and the beat, driving through outstanding originals like "Little Ways," and savvy covers like "Heartaches by the Number." He made country music sound hard, cool and electric, a trick no act in Nashville has mastered.