The show began promisingly enough. As his tight five-piece band warmed up - resplendent in their California cowboy gear, all white shirts, waistcoats and pointy boots - Yoakam shimmied out like an elastic Elvis, gyrating his hips and strumming hard at his acoustic guitar, and laid into 'Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose'. Scott Joss's screeching fiddle brought a roar from a crowd well primed for some authentic hillbilly hoedown sounds, but Yoakam's colourful twang was reduced to a muffled bark by the PA.
Given his penchant for flamboyant clothes, hanging out in Hollywood with Sharon Stone and describing the Billy Ray Cyrus phenomenon as 'a bunch o' bullshit', it came as a surprise that for much of the first half Yoakam the extrovert seemed lost in himself. He played his guitar with apparent glee, adding a constant roar of strings to Pete Anderson's steely lead, but since the looping brim of his trademark cowboy hat half obscured his eyes, it was hard to get any sense of the personality behind the playing. The 20-song set proceeded smoothly, as if on autopilot, through such songs as 'Please, Please Baby', 'The Distance Between You and Me', and 'The Streets of Bakersfield' with little comment from the man himself.
But by the time he got to 'If There Was a Way', with its warbling organ and Shadows guitar, the full force of his po' boy melancholia hit the audience. (He sings so many songs about female infidelity that you wonder whether he keeps his hat on all the time just to hide his cuckold's horns.) The band maintained a respectful silence during a version of 'Honky Tonk Man', and he cranked himself about on his pipe-cleaner legs, doing a bit of funky picking while the crowd sang along to 'Hey hey mama can your daddy come home?'
Things were hotting up. 'Guitars, Cadillacs' and then 'Long White Cadillac' led to the encore, in which 'I Sang Dixie' brought the Americans in the audience to their feet. 'U-S-A, U-S-A,' they chanted, much to Yoakam's embarrassment. 'I see we have some white trash in here, some trailer trash,' he said, once he had recovered his composure. 'Well, we gotta do at least one George Jones song in honour of all the trailer trash,' and set off on a hearty version of 'Step Right Up'. They loved it.
Yoakam should have tried out a few more covers. As a man who once happily toured with indie band Husker Du, he's perfectly placed to upset country expectations all over again with a bit of rock attitude, and has shown he can with a radical version of Lennon and McCartney's 'Things We Said Today' on his new album. The rebel may find a new cause after all.Reuse content