If Dwight Yoakam’s Nashville show was any indication, one thing can certainly be said the for the “Red, Dwight and Blue” tour: You absolutely get more bang for your buck.
The AmSouth Amphitheatre stop, July 1, was a nearly six-hour music marathon including sets by openers Pam Tillis, Sons of the Desert and Eric Heatherly. Yoakam — dressed in his traditional stage uniform of boots, hat, skin-tight Levis and a short, blue western jacket — commanded the stage for nearly two hours, eliciting screams from the women in the audience with a mere swivel of his hips.
Perhaps because of the length of the evening (the show started at 6 p.m. and Yoakam went on at 10) much of the crowd had thinned out midway through the headliner’s performance. Yoakam didn’t seem to mind as he concentrated instead on the die-hard fans gathered in the section in front of the stage. He even defended one woman in the crowd, who apparently had been told by security guards to stop dancing and sit down. Yoakam stopped the band in the middle of the song and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold it. You go ahead and dance. We’re not going to be here that long, so it won’t cause a fire hazard.”
Despite that edgy incident, Yoakam seemed to be in a playful mood, running through a string of hits including “Guitars, Cadillacs,” “Little Sister,” “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He stopped singing and grinned broadly as the crowd outsang him on “Little Ways.” Yoakam also offered up new material that he said he just recorded for a new studio album, which should be released at summer’s end.
“We’re going to give you a spirt of that new stuff,” Yoakam said. “We’re just going to spirt it at you.”
While the new music is very much in the vein of his commercially successful hits, Yoakam included more traditional fare in his encore. Returning to the stage and playing with just a guitar, as he does on his latest release, dwightyoakamacousticnet.com., he filled the space with his voice on the haunting “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)” and “I Sang Dixie.” After slowing things down, he brought the band back out for a few more tunes, including “Suspicious Minds” and a ride through “Mystery Train.”
While Yoakam may have become a respected actor and director in recent years, Hollywood certainly has not stolen any of the twang from his voice. Although the Kentucky native was considered cutting-edge country just a few years ago, it’s clear he now is one of the most traditional-sounding performers around. His voice is smooth and full, with all of the vocal hiccups that have become his trademark. Yoakam’s energy is irresistible, and even as the evening wore on it was hard not to jump and boogie.
To complement his traditional-yet-experimental sound, Yoakam has assembled a nice cast of openers who share his versatility. Newcomer Eric Heatherly kicked off the show to a half-full house, but he managed to engage the fans who were in their seats. Even in the sticky afternoon heat, Heatherly convinced the crowd to stand up and clap along on tunes like “Flowers on the Wall” and “Wrong Five O’Clock” from his debut album, Swimming in Champagne. Dressed in hepcat clothes and toting his beloved green guitar, Heatherly’s voice sounded strong and self-assured. He earned the first standing ovation of the evening.
Sons of the Desert took the stage next and fought drum-heavy sound problems through the first few songs. When the mix was smoothed out the band’s tight vocal harmonies came through. Lead singer Drew Womack called attention to the Fourth of July holiday by recognizing veterans with “What I Did Right,” a song from the new album, Change. Before leaving the stage, the band tore into a rocked up version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and got the crowd on its feet with John Mellencamp’s “Little Pink Houses.” Some of the Sons were spotted later in the lawn section catching Yoakam’s set.
Pam Tillis added a touch of sass and comedy to the otherwise testosterone-laden bill. Opening with “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” Tillis walked onstage amid a swirl of lights and smoke. Her set — much more theatrical, with some choreographed dancing — was a hit-filled romp through “Shake the Sugar Tree,” “Maybe It Was Memphis” and “Spilled Perfume.”
“I’m a little bit nervous,” Tillis admitted early in the show. “When you play Nashville, you’re playing to people you went to kindergarten with. They want to see how you’ve developed.”
Tillis has indeed developed into a stellar performer who has an easy rapport with the audience. When a guy down front was dancing and singing loudly, she called him up to the edge of the stage and asked his name.
“Larry is going to sing with me,” she said, proceeding to put the microphone in his face. Larry offered up an off-key yelling of “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” to enthusiastic response from the crowd. She then gave the good sport a pair of glow-in-the-dark, “Mi Vida Loca” boxer shorts. But Larry wasn’t the end of Tillis’ joking around.
“Y’all, I am so excited!” she exclaimed. “I just got my first pair of BVDs thrown onstage. You don’t mind if I don’t pick them up right away, do you?”
On a serious note, Tillis talked excitedly about her recent invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry, and she debuted “Thunder and Roses” from her upcoming Arista album. Adding her part to the schizophrenic evening, Tillis closed her set with a bluegrass version of the Beatles’ classic, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”