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Honky Tonk Man: Dwight Yoakam defies country music trends in Uptown concert

Dwight Yoakam performs Saturday night at the Uptown Theater.
Dwight Yoakam performs Saturday night at the Uptown Theater. Special to The Star

Dwight Yoakam filled a Kansas City venue for the second time in seven months on Saturday. The country veteran’s performance for about 1,500 fans at the Uptown Theater was even better than his satisfying outing for a capacity audience on the KC Live stage in the Power & Light District last summer.

Saturday’s sold-out concert was a fundraiser for the Medicine Cabinet, a Kansas City charity that provides short-term emergency medical assistance to those in need.

Yoakam’s career first gained traction in the 1980s, even though his admirably rough-hewn blend of 1950s rockabilly and the honky-tonk of the 1960s was out of favor. The sound remains out of step with the country music establishment 30 years later.

The Californian by way of Ohio has never jumped on a bandwagon or followed a fad. His most recent album, “Second Hand Heart,” differs little from his 1986 debut, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.” Never wavering far from his core sound may have prevented Yoakam from becoming a superstar, but his persistence becomes more admirable with each passing year.

“Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music),” the first of 30 songs Yoakam and a four-piece backing band stampeded through in an almost flawless hour-and-45-minute appearance, set the tone. A large portion of Yoakam’s repertoire concerns the heartbreak caused by foolhardy decisions made in barrooms.

Frantic tempos transformed the sad songs into celebratory anthems. A relaxed interpretation of “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” was one of the few Yoakam hits that wasn’t sped up. Hotshot guitarist Eugene Edwards attacked a version of “Little Sister” as if he were a member of the Ramones.

A sinfully twangy arrangement of “Ring of Fire,” a defiant take of the drifter’s lament “Streets of Bakersfield” and an Appalachian soul translation of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” were exceptional, but the evening’s most poignant selection was a surprising singalong. Yoakam said that the recent death of Glenn Frey of the Eagles “broke my heart” as he introduced a pretty rendition of “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

Yoakam’s hips provided the only special effect in the no-frills production. He spun like a battered top at the conclusion of the amplified bluegrass number “I’ll Be Gone” and induced appreciative screams when he suggestively shimmied during a bouncy reading of “The Big Time.” He even pogoed during the frantic rave-up “Liar.”

Rarely has an unfashionable artist with an unstylish sound looked and sounded so good.

Set list

Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music); Please, Please Baby; Little Sister; Streets of Bakersfield; It Won’t Hurt; This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me; Dreams of Clay; Second Hand Heart; Ain’t That Lonely Yet; Liar; Ring of Fire; Nothing’s Changed Here; Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose; I’ll Be Gone; The Heart That You Own; The Big Time; Always Late With Your Kisses; Pocket of a Clown; If There Was a Way; Things Change; This Time; Honky Tonk Man; A Thousand Miles From Nowhere; It Only Hurts When I Cry; Little Ways; Guitars, Cadillacs; Fast As You; Peaceful Easy Feeling; I Feel Fine; Suspicious Minds.

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