Dwight Yoakam at Mystic Lake Casino, 2/11/11

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Photos by Nikki Miller
Dwight Yoakam
February 11, 2011
Mystic Lake Casino

Aw, sookie.

My appreciation for Dwight Yoakam's live show, after his Friday night performance to a sold-out crowd at Mystic Lake Casino, has now passed through three phases.

The first time I saw Dwight, at a casino down in rural Southwest Minnesota, the thrill was in seeing one of my favorite country dudes from my 1990s adolescence, a guy I remember doing Elvis better than Elvis (sorry, Grandma). A guy who could get real pretty models with fashionably bobbed hair to dance in cages or chain themselves moodily to his back for his music videos. A guy who personified the resurgence of my appreciation for contemporary country music - when done well.

The second time I saw him, at a casino up north, I was in the clutches of my deep Don Rich obsession, and so I couldn't hardly take my eyes off of guitarist/backup vocalist Eddie Perez, who when standing next to Dwight seemed the modern-day Rich to Dwight's take on Buck. (And in the interest of full disclosure, it's still not easy to take your eyes off him - the dude's real hot with his long locks and in his white sparkly blazer and tight faded jeans.)

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But this time, as the Mystic curtain swept open to reveal a backdrop of starry lights and Dwight and company in all their rhinestoney splendor, my mind wasn't on the soundtracks to Nick Cage movies from the 90s. It wasn't on Eddie Perez's jeans (um okay yeah it was). But it was also on the Crystal Palace.

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Last month, I made the ultimate fangirl pilgrimage to Bakersfield, California. Yeah, I wanted to walk the streets of Bakersfield, just so's I could say I had. I didn't want anyone ever saying I didn't know what I was talking about because I hadn't. But I also wanted to see Merle's boxcar house, touch Don Rich's grave. See how the rural agricultural living of the West Coast differed from the rural agricultural living of South Dakota I came from. See what attracted Dwight Yoakam to the sound that flourished here, years and years after Buck and Merle and the Maddox Brothers & Rose all walked these streets.

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When the band started playing its first song, "Please, Please Baby," I was transported back to that place, its sound, its look, re-envisioned contemporarily by Dwight. A place with glitz and rhinestones and loud drums and pedal steel guitars and music you can dance and spill your beer to in the middle of a town full of people down on their luck but sure as hell tryin'.

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As for Friday night's performance, it was worlds different from the last two I saw, both in front of sedate audiences of mostly elderly casino regular audiences who'd filled big rooms full of banquet chairs facing a tiny low-rising stage. On Friday night, the man's hat was tipped slightly less low over his nose, and he seemed to smile a helluvalot more. Kinda seemed like he was either a lot less heartbroke, or a little more drunk. Not that I know a thing about his love life or propensity to drink, but, you know, when people are smiling, it's usually because they're in love or drunk, no?

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The improved energy from Dwight and his band was noticed, and appreciated, as they made their way through a nearly two-hour set with plenty of Dwight's original hits and best covers, plus plenty of hip swivels, guitar dips and toe twists. Now, I wanna see these guys play Buck's Crystal Palace. I need another excuse to get out to Bakersfield, actually get up to sing "Guitars and Cadillacs" at Trout's as I'd planned to last month (damned nepotistic karaoke host), and maybe get caught up in another Bakersfield shoot-out, the most thrilling thing to happen to me in that town. And in my perfect world, where I fly out to Los Angeles and drive up to Bakersfield on every whim, the Bakersfield sound, its ethos, that reaction to the slickly-produced music coming out of Nashville at the time, would rule again. I'd say it's high time for another such resurgence.

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Critic's bias: Love, love, love Dwight Yoakam. He makes it cool to like country.
The crowd: Typical Mystic crowd peppered with a handful of young'uns savvy enough to appreciate Dwight.
Overheard in the crowd: (During opening set by newcomers Thompson Square, after they'd announced they're a new band, had just put out their album this week and were gonna play some new stuff off of it.) "No! Just play the old stuff!"
Random notebook dump: (Regarding Thompson Square) Gave it an enthusiastic effort, but performing before three bar stools in front of the sparkly curtain drawn to hide the Yoakam setup behind, felt with the spotlights on the sparkly curtains like Johnny Carson was gonna jump out at any moment. Heeeeeeeeeere's Yoakam!
For more photos: See our full slideshow.
Set List:
Please, Please Baby
Under Your Spell Again
Act Naturally
Streets of Bakersfield
? Missed it - was dreaming about Bakersfield
? Missed it - was dreaming about Bakersfield
What Do You Know About Love
Close Up the Honky Tonks
If There Was a Way
Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose/Buckaroo
Things Change
This Time
Ring of Fire (a la T. Rex)
Maybe You Like It, Maybe You Don't
Little Sister
Nothing's Changed
Pocket of a Clown
Everybody's Talking
Honky Tonk Man
A Thousand Miles from Nowhere
This Drinkin' Will Kill Me
It Won't Hurt
It Only Hurts When I Cry
Little Ways
Guitars and Cadillacs
Fast As You
Encore: Dang, lost my notes on this but I remember Since I Started Drinking Again, and Long White Cadillac

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