Concert Reviews

Dwight Yoakam’s Friday Night Show at Bomb Factory Reinforced His Devotion to Country Music

Dwight Yoakam, pictured here at the 8th Annual ACM Honors, channeled the ghosts of Nashville on Friday night in Dallas.
Dwight Yoakam, pictured here at the 8th Annual ACM Honors, channeled the ghosts of Nashville on Friday night in Dallas. Ed Rode/Stringer

The most dangerous thing that can happen to an art form is for it to be treated gently — relevance calcified into reverence. There is no doubting Dwight Yoakam’s devotion to country music — his was a poignant presence in documentarian Ken Burns’ sprawling 2019 assessment of the genre — and his Friday night set at The Bomb Factory, before a passionate, near-capacity crowd, only served to reinforce his affections.

But rather than make his affinity for Buck Owens, Merle Haggard or Ray Wylie Hubbard feel like an homage at arm’s length, Yoakam channeled the ghosts of Bakersfield and Nashville into something like a holy rolling revival. In the moment, it was almost possible to reach back and touch the raw, dirty, early days of country’s fusion with its rougher, rowdier side.

Over two hours, the 63-year-old Yoakam — his jeans, as ever, breathlessly tight; the brim of his hat pulled low enough to cast a shadow across his smile — and his four backing musicians tore through more than two dozen songs, a set list that slammed one tune into another with scarcely a moment to breathe.

The spartan stage, lit perfunctorily and adorned with nothing more than Yoakam’s name on a video screen, befit the stripped-down, straight-ahead approach.

Even with a breakneck pace, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter breezily dropped pocket histories of his heroes into the beginnings and endings of songs. A steady beat served as a backdrop to weed-smoking anecdotes about Willie Nelson (“Willie … are you in there?” Yoakam asked, pantomiming waving away a wall of smoke) or prefacing his Laurel Canyon-indebted “Pretty Horses” with a drive-by recapping of how the Byrds and Linda Ronstadt helped beget the Eagles.

From the jump, Yoakam seemed to attack the stage like a man making up for lost time.

tweet this
Friday’s performance was Yoakam’s first in Dallas proper in nearly four years — he played Fort Worth plenty in the interim; twice at Billy Bob’s Texas, in 2019 and 2017, and a night at Bass Hall in 2018. From the jump, Yoakam seemed to attack the stage like a man making up for lost time.

It’s likewise been four years since his last studio album (the bluegrass-inclined Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars …), and being freed from the promotional cycle meant he could freely roam across his catalog and indulge his inspirations: Opening with a rip-snorting take on Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” spinning into Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister” and delivering a satisfying one-two punch of Owens (“Streets of Bakersfield”) and Haggard (“The Bottle Let Me Down”).

Although Yoakam’s moonshine tenor, signature step-toe-shuffle and swiveling hips drew raucous cheers, his backing band likewise provided plenty of reasons to roar: Drummer Mitch Marine provided the relentless backbeat upon which the entire night depended; guitarist Eugene Edwards, decked out in a spangled jacket and given to solos that scorched the ceiling; bassist Eric Baines, whose low-end work was matched by the high harmony notes he shared with Yoakam, and multi-instrumentalist Jamison Hollister, as adept at mournful fiddle as he was joyful piano.

Singling out a highlight would be impossible, although an extended Buck Owens medley deep in the evening — Yoakam’s own “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose” bookended a thrilling run through “Buckaroo,” “My Heart Skips a Beat” and “Act Naturally” — would be neck-and-neck with the vicious rendition of “Liar,” a shot of cheap whiskey slammed back at last call, and which Yoakam introduced with a snarl: “They would’ve called this cowpunk in the early ‘80s!”

Even in the present, Yoakam’s mind was never far from the past. Fortunately, reflection is a full-contact proposition for the country star, ensuring an evening those in attendance will not soon forget.
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones