NASHVILLE Watching Dwight Yoakam romp through a taut 90-minute set at Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday night, you had to wonder why the Los Angeles-based country singer has never received his turn as entertainer of the year in industry voting.
With Pete Anderson playing all manner of guitars in a variety of styles, Yoakam and his band cranked out no fewer than 26 songs, starting with his recent hit "What Do You Know About Love" and ending with a tip of his hat to former Ryman regular Hank Williams via Dave Alvin's "Long White Cadillac."
A master of postmodern mixed messages, Yoakam decorated the spare stage with a lava lamp, an illuminated globe and a hanging chair on which played a small light show. From the rear curtain hung banners proclaiming "2001" and "Sounds," and depicting a woman's body with embedded audio speakers. The images echoed the art for his most recent release, last year's Tomorrow's Sounds Today.
Yoakam was dressed more traditionally in a cowboy hat, Western-cut jacket and trademark tight denims. His set ranged from reworked versions of rock tunes including Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" to such hardcore material as "The Darkest Hour," which appears on the soundtrack album for his upcoming film, "South of Heaven, West of Hell."
Barely stopping for a breath between songs, Yoakam continues to make vital, tradition-rooted music 15 years after his first major-label release. While other country artists who made their entrances around the same time have slowed down or exhausted their creative storehouse, Yoakam forges ahead with parallel careers as a singer/songwriter and filmmaker/actor.
On the few occasions when he spoke, Yoakam thanked his record label and the staffers some now departed who helped advance his career. He also touted his new movie, previewing "Tears for Two" and a song he co-wrote with Mick Jagger titled "What's Left of Me," both destined for the soundtrack album (due for October 2 release).
Anderson was the focal point of Yoakam's band, adding trebly twang or beefy Danelectro runs where appropriate. It's impossible to imagine songs such as "Little Ways" without his trademark licks. The rest of Yoakam's group contributed mightily, including steel guitarist Gary Morse on "The Sad Side of Town" and keyboardist Skip Edwards, who played Hammond B3 organ on "Home for Sale." Yoakam drove "The Heartaches Are Free" on acoustic guitar and played nifty electric lines on "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere."
The concert's closer, "Fast as You," had the capacity audience stomping and clapping. At least one concertgoer held her cell phone in the air so a friend could hear.
Yoakam has stayed away from Nashville for the most part and country radio has pretty much stayed away from him lately. Both parties could benefit from a closer relationship, though Yoakam appears to be doing just fine without industry awards or chart-topping songs.
Opening act Allison Moorer is cut from the same cloth. She has made more noise with an Academy Award nomination (for "A Soft Place to Fall" in the film "The Horse Whisperer") than with her fine second album, The Hardest Part. Returning to the venue where she first caught the attention of a major-label executive, the Alabama native filled the Ryman with her powerful alto, though she occasionally had to contend with an overaggressive backing band. Her nine-song set stayed mostly mid-tempo, where she feels at home. "I love country music," she said after "The Day You Said Goodbye," and she was totally believable on "Alabama Song" and "The Hardest Part." Country music would do well to love her back.