Yoakam in a hurry to test fans' mettle
Late start, feedback fine with audience

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(Chicago Tribune, Published September 1, 2006


Dwight Yoakam may not sell out the big arenas in town. But as it turns out, having a smaller cult following can be a blessing. Because loyal fans are very forgiving.

No one seemed to mind that Yoakam came out an hour and 15 minutes late for his Wednesday night show at Park West. Or that relentless feedback interrupted every song. Or that he zipped through his songs like he was checking them off his to-do list.

Yoakam fans don't get riled, it seems. Instead, they focused on the good: the classics from Yoakam's 20 years in the too-cool-for-Nashville country world, and the covers he drapes his own hillbilly tenor around.

Opening tunes included sharp sounds  from Yoakam's self-produced "Blame the Vain" album, such as "She'll Remember" and the title track. The segue into Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" was rough, but turned the crowd's attention up a few notches.

The near-capacity general admission crowd was ready to drink in every word the roots rocker had to sing. His cult status has been cemented in the country books for years, and just a couple months shy of his 50th birthday, Yoakam gave Chicago the no-frills show they wanted. The four-man ensemble on stage backed him with all the standard instruments, plus a double bass, tambourine, accordion and two mandolins.

Paying homage to Buck Owens is a part of every Yoakam show, even more so since Owens passed away in March. From "Act Naturally" to "Together Again," it was a fitting tribute to the man who helped shape Yoakam's songwriting. "Streets of Bakersfield," the No. 1 hit duet Owens and Yoakam recorded in 1988, was a solid ending to the heartfelt  medley.

Yoakam kept up the steady string of his own songs and those of fellow country veterans. He added his own rockabilly swagger to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

And on "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose" and "This Time" he had the standing-room-only fans copying his dance of the swinging knees.

A western-style blue suit and brown cowboy boots made a simple backdrop for the Gibson and Martin guitars he had in his arms all night. And as always, Yoakam's cowboy hat was dipped down so low, no one could look him in the eye.

While country radio play continues to elude him, Yoakam seems to embrace a lifestyle that's miles from mainstream.

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