by Julian Spivey
Dwight Yoakam and Brandy Clark brought some good old-fashioned country music to the Arkansas State University Convocation Center in Jonesboro, Ark. on Friday, August 26.
Clark, who’s one of today’s greatest songwriters in the country music genre, brought a killer opening set to Arkansas with selections from her first two albums as a performer – 2013’s 12 Stories and the recently released Big Day in a Small Town.
Clark opened her roughly hour-long set with “Stripes,” a rip-roaring revenge song from her debut album, which was nominated for a Grammy Award. The song about the ugly fashion choices prisons choose for their inmates being the only thing keeping her from murdering a cheatin’ spouse was the perfect way to introduce her style of music to an audience you could tell wasn’t all too familiar with her, though they should’ve been.
Clark mixed upbeat songs, many of them on the theme of revenge, with low-key tearjerkers, which are often among her best as a songwriter, throughout the set to great effect.
Her flawless combination of the title track from her sophomore album “Big Day in a Small Town” with John Mellencamp’s classic “Small Town” early in her set really energized the crowd that seemed to be in the palm of her hand the rest of the way.
Other incredible performances from Clark’s set included jaw-dropping vocals on “You Can Come Over,” “Love Can Go to Hell,” which is her upcoming single, and “Hold My Hand.”
At one point during her performance Clark mentioned that her grandmother once told her there “were only two kinds of music – country and western” she then embarked on a cover of Buck Owens’ classic “Together Again” and when she performed “Drinkin’, Smokin,’ Cheatin’” from her newest release you knew she was the real kinda country.
Some of her upbeat performances that the crowd definitely seemed to enjoy included “Broke” and two more revenge themed songs in “Daughter,” which she claims is her favorite of her songs with the theme, and “Crazy Women.”
Dwight Yoakam is an interesting specimen in country music in that he can be considered one of the genre’s all-time greats, and should be, while also being considered one of the most underrated and underappreciated artists in the genre’s grand history. Part of the reasoning for both is that he’s managed to take something that already existed in the Bakersfield Sound of his California raising made popular by the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, while also remaining wholly unique. He’s basically made a career out of being a Nashville outsider.
He opened his set with the raucous “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” from his 2012 album 3 Pears that instantly got the already excited crowd on their feet and most of the audience, which frankly was way too small for these terrific artists, stayed on their feet and even danced in place or in the aisles for the remainder of his almost two hour set.
Yoakam knows how to perfectly craft a set list throwing in the majority of his hits over his 30-year career with a multitude of excellently chosen covers. It’s not unusual by any means for artists to throw cover songs into their performances, but nobody covers songs like Yoakam. He’s the greatest cover artist in any genre … ever. This is because every time Yoakam covers a classic song he puts his own unique spin on it and this is no better seen than on his take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” which if you didn’t know the lyrics you might not recognize based on the band’s sound.
One of the true highlights and maybe the most touching moment of the entire evening came when Yoakam paid tribute to one of his Bakersfield compadres and country music heroes Merle Haggard, who died in April, with a four-song homage that included “Silver Wings,” “Swinging Doors,” “Mama Tried” and “Okie From Muskogee.” It was a fitting sendoff for Haggard and something Yoakam has been doing on his entire tour.
Yoakam’s set featured nearly all of his “greatest hits” like “Please, Please Baby,” “Little Sister,” “Streets of Bakersfield,” “Honky Tonk Man,” “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” “Little Ways” and “It Only Hurts When I Cry.” It’s hearing all of these songs together in a show that truly proves to you Yoakam is both one of the all-time country greats, while also being vastly underrated.
One of the best performances of a Yoakam classic was “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” which he and his band have rearranged and sounds completely different and maybe even cooler than the original recording.
It wasn’t all hits and oldies from Yoakam on Friday night in Jonesboro. Some of his best performances of the evening were of older tunes that were never singles, like the superb honky-tonker “It Won’t Hurt” and the mournful, while also raucous “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me,” and a trio of songs from his most recent album – the terrific Second Hand Heart from last year. The trio of newer songs includes the title track, “Dreams of Clay” and “Liar,” which is Yoakam and his outstanding band at their cowpunk best.
Often at concerts, especially those featuring artists with big and beloved discographies, fans will tune out when newer songs are played, but you could tell the audience stayed in-tune and really dug the new stuff. This new stuff also goes to show that Yoakam hasn’t slowed down one bit as he approaches 60-years old.
Despite his age he certainly hasn’t slowed down one bit on stage either as part of the Dwight Yoakam concert experience is truly his “Dwight Dances,” how he sways, swings, spins, shakes and struts on the stage. I even remarked to my wife and concert-going partner in crime during the show that the reason Yoakam’s band is so young – probably guys in their late 20s or early 30s – is that he had to find young bucks to keep up with his fast-paced rockabilly, psychobilly, cowpunk, honky-tonk ways.
There was never a down moment in Yoakam’s set and the pace just picked up toward the end as he got to fan-favorites like “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast as You” before leaving the stage to uproarious applause.
Yoakam and his band would return to the stage minutes later for an outstanding encore of “Suspicious Minds,” a song made famous by another one of his heroes and influences Elvis Presley. It would be an incredible exclamation point on a truly fantastic night of music.