Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, And Dwight Yoakam, At the Beacon Theatre, Wednesday, June 13th, 2018, Reviewed
It was 1020pm last night and if they had been paying attention the entire audience at the Beacon Theatre would have let out a loud groan as five techs on the stage surrounded an errant electric guitar in complete bafflement. It could only mean one thing, a long evening was gonna get even longer while they readied us for the legendary 80s country superstar Dwight Yoakam. We had already sat through a fair enough half hour of alright country by Dwight protégée King Leg, a spindly country rocker with a steady band but hurt by bad acoustics (yes, at the Beacon!), and two forty five minute sets, one by Steve Earle and one by Lucinda Williams, both excellent, and highlighted by a duet on “You’re still Standin’ There,” replicating the 1996 performance on I Feel Alright.
No kick from me at all, although I agree with rock nyc scribe Ken Davis when he noted that King Leg wasn’t necessary, if the show had started at 7pm instead of 730pm, it wouldn’t have mattered. As it is, Dwight didn’t hit the stage till 1035pm, and by the time he did it was so late, I only managed 35 minutes of the hour long set. Blame it on age and blame it on a cup being overfilled.
I’ve seen Steve twice this year alone, and Lucinda many times dating back to a gig with Elvis Costello in the 1990s. They are not growing any younger. Lucinda is 65, Steve is 63, Dwight is 61. Steve looks older, Lucinda looks like a pretty hot Grandmother, and Dwight, with the help of a ten gallon hat, looks about the same as ever but with more lines on his face. Lucinda has a gravel road rumble of a voice that reminds me of Lauryn Hill, Steve shouldn’t sound as well he does, but his voice, which harshest a mellow at 100 paces, can seem to feign empathy and compassion -or maybe not feign at all. Dwight, who still owns the best voice in country this side of a Vince Gill or a George Strait, twangs with depth though he has to clear his throat to keep it in shape.
Steve had the Dukes with him and took the opportunity to excavate some songs off last year’s So You Wannabe An Outlaw, most notably his ode to firefighters “The Firebreak Line,” along with the “Lucinda Fucking Williams” duet and some oldies, “Devil’s Right Hand” referenced the High School anti-gun protesters (“more than at Trump’s inauguration”), a sublime “Guitar Town” (is there any other type?) and a blistering “Hey Joe” which took a moment to dis the Mexican wall. Lucinda had Trump on her mind as well by the end of the set, with a re-written “Foolishness” blasting the cobwebs off repression (“I don’t want no racism in my life, I don’t want no sexism in my life…”) till she concludes “I want Freedom in my life”. I don’t know who Lucinda’s lead guitarist was but he was great, and the set, with stuff like “Drunken Angel” and “Lake Charles,” not to mention the song Tom Petty himself once covered “Changed The Locks” and a song she sold to the TV program “Nashville” “Bitter Memory” and which she reclaimed from the country pop overproduced Rayna version to what she, not inaccurately, called real country. 45 minutes was a perfect length for each of the sets.
But then the long wait while they fixed Dwight’s guitar. I’ve had Dwight on my bucket list for the longest time. How long? After catching George Jones in 2006, I was only left with Alan Jackson and Dwight., in 2013 I caught up with Jackson and last night there was the man with the hat. Certainly, one of the top country performers of the 1980s. According to Wikipedia, “Yoakam has recorded more than twenty albums and compilations, charted more than thirty singles on Billboard’s Hot Country Song charts, and sold more than 25 million records”, It was an odd though not unpleasant set, with Dwight covering Buck Owens, Merle Haggard (a powerful “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” was exactly right) and Warren Zevon (!). Why would he do that? “SiriusXM launched a new channel: Dwight Yoakam and the Bakersfield Beat that features the music from Southern California that focuses on, and influences, the Bakersfield sound” and that’s why.
I’m not kicking, he does it exceedingly well, (especially on “Carmelita” where he switched back “Smith and Wesson” back from Linda Ronstadt’s “Smith And Corona”!) Dwight can play a good guitar and has a nifty two step, he has an ease about him that reminds me a little of a George Strait, and I sincerely regret not staying till the end of the night. So why the grade? It needed to start earlier and end earlier, the lead act doesn’t need to be hitting the stage at 1030 in the evening.