Dwight Yoakam doesn’t mess around. The 60-year-old honky-tonk master and his scorching young band – dressed in sparkly sequined jackets and brimming with confident, grinning swagger – kicked off their Egg show by blasting through Chuck Berry’s raw rock & roll classic “Little Queenie.”
Yoakam and his quartet didn’t let up from there, jamming their 90-minute performance in the sold-out Hart Theatre with 23 rapid-fire songs and precious little chitter-chatter – but loads of fun.
They churned seamlessly from one tune to the next in a relentlessly energetic set that included several of Yoakam’s signature covers (Elvis’ “Little Sister,” Buck Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield”) and some of the hillbilly rabble-rouser’s own biggest hits (“Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose,” “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere,” “Guitars, Cadillacs”).
Dressed in tight, thread-bare blue jeans, a faded denim jacket with a rhinestone fringe on the back, and a white cowboy hat pulled low over his brow obscuring his eyes, Yoakam didn’t say much beyond the standard thanks to the audience, instead letting the music speak to his 30-plus-year career as a restless country music iconoclast.
His resounding voice sounded in fine form, and the clinically cool Yoakam thrilled the crowd with some fancy footwork, stepping across the stage in his white cowboy boots to “The Big Time” and executing a signature side-to-side slide across the stage for the great “Fast as You.”
Early on, he paid tribute to Merle Haggard with a mini-set that included Haggard’s “Silver Wings,” “Swinging Doors” and “Mama Tried.” With Merle Haggard’s death last year, Yoakam is the most visible ambassador of the electrified, rock & roll-influenced outlaw country music that emanated from Bakersfield, California, in the 1960s.
“I’m going to do one now from my first album that might show a little of Merle’s influence in my music,” he said before the whiskey-soaked heartbreaker “It Won’t Hurt.”
The Ohio native, born in Kentucky but now a Los Angeles resident for decades, has a recent album out – 2016’s “Swimming Pools, Movie Stars,” which rearranges some of his classic songs in a bluegrass context. Yoakam didn’t plug it much, or even at all, focusing on compositions from earlier in his career: “I’ll Be Gone,” “You’re the One,” “Always Late with Your Kisses,” “Honky Tonk Man” and “Little Ways.”
Yoakam and band left to a standing ovation at the end of the night and returned for a swinging encore of “Suspicious Minds,” the Elvis-popularized hit that Yoakam recorded in 1992 for the film “Honeymoon in Vegas.”
Opening band Elliot Root, a young five-piece from Nashville, may not have been the best choice to start the show, given a sound that was way more rock than country, and a polished, modern rock at that – one relying on the dramatic vocal delivery, anthemic choruses and angsty-emo sentiment of Coldplay or Kings of Leon. They got heckled by a scattering of Yoakam fans, but took it in decent stride. “All I hear is ‘Play another one,’” said frontman Scott Krueger when fans yelled out for Yoakam during his band’s set.