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Dwight Yoakam, Mavericks, The Anthem, Washington DC, May 31, 2024

Dwight Yoakam, Mavericks, The Anthem, Washington DC, May 31, 2024
June 17, 2024 09:25PM
Dwight Yoakam, Mavericks, The Anthem, Washington DC, May 31, 2024

I have a longstanding, well-documented skepticism toward The Anthem, I.M.P.’s interstellar spacecraft of a music venue that landed on the DC Wharf and accelerated the inflationary pressures in the concertgoing market and moved a lot of good midsized bands to a club too big for them to succeed aesthetically. I have still never paid for a show at The Anthem, but I’ve also never turned down a ticket to a show with a band I wanted to see. One of my neighborhood record stores (shoutout Byrdland Records) regularly has ticket giveaways and I put in my name for this dual-headliner show of country-rock veterans.

I was mostly there for a chance to see the Mavericks, whom I’ve admired, without a great deal of research on my part, for many years. Their compilation Super Colossal Smash Hits of the 90s is a fantastic piece of Latin country rock, and it’s wall-to-wall with memorable songs and catchy compositions. It's been on my phone (and previously iTunes and iPods) for years. Raul Malo emerged as a Roy Orbison-voiced crooner in the band’s early years, but they can also rock and play convincing Tejano-influenced borderlands music. Waiting for the Mavericks to hit the stage, the pre-show music gave a hint of the diversity of the band’s influences: P-Funk and cumbia and classic rock and “Short Skirt Long Jacket” by Cake, the Stones and the Clash, and “Green Onions” and “Werewolves of London.”

In the set at the Anthem, they did some of their earlier hits, the ones I know best, as well as some material from their latest album, Moon & Stars, which I had recently heard previewed on NPR Alt.Latino. Malo has an incredible personal story, one of the best in music. He was born in Cuba, came as part of the boatlift to South Florida, and was an instinctual frontman from his youth, with a voice and stage presence to match. But while he’s the star, the band was supremely impressive. At times I imagined that they were what it would be like if you took the E Street Band and merged it with Fania All-Stars, between multiple guitarists and bassists, a horn section, an accordionist, two percussionists, and Malo singing and bandleading. Sometimes the horns would step forward into a mariachi section, or the accordionist would give a Tejano solo, showing the cross-fertilization of the German and Czech influences in Texas with Mexican sounds. They did a particularly good job on integrating Mexican and borderlands sounds into what would otherwise be straightforward country rock arrangements.

Moon & Stars got a strong showing, with five songs, but the band did go back to their early years with older hits like “What a Crying Shame” and “There Goes My Heart,” which highlighted Malo’s handsome vocals. He is not as much of an Orbison or Elvis crooner as he once was but his vocals are instantly appealing and inimitable: he hits a high lonesome note or sing with a twang in his voice at times (the Mavericks are nominally a country band, after all) but he adapts his singing ably for the material, with a rocker’s bravado or a romantic’s earnestness.

At times the show was a bit melodramatic — I didn’t need the little chorus line dance routines with the horn section — but the band was tight, the songs are great, and the crowd was into it. It was all thoroughly entertaining even if they didn’t get into that many of their early hits, the ones I knew from the 90s. As they wrapped up with an encore of one of their biggest singles, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” you could have been excused for thinking it was an evening well spent.

The Mavericks Concert Setlist at The Anthem, Washington on May 31, 2024

Of course the Mavericks were actually not the nominal headline of the show after all. Dwight Yoakam is one of the names I’ve known forever but whose actual music was only a vague impression in my head. (Wanna know how vague? I remember Mary Chapin Carpenter name dropping him and Lyle Lovett as potential suitors in “I Feel Lucky” more than I do his actual music.)

In the interstitial between the Mavericks and Yoakam’s band, we heard the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” and Bowie’s “Jean Genie,” which I found positive. Yoakam and his band proved to be showmen, through and through, and even a relative ignoramus like me immediately got caught up in the spectacle. Introduced as he took the stage as coming from “Hollywood, California,” Yoakam didn’t shy away from showcasing the influences into his music from outside the country music canon. He did a diverse collection of his own songs, old and new, but for a newcomer like me, it did not hurt that many of the songs were covers engraved in any music listener’s neural pathways, from Elvis to Queen. He even started at the very beginning of the genre, with the Carter Family’s “Keep on the Sunny Side,” a throwback if ever there was one.

If the Mavericks were showy if tasteful, Yoakam’s band didn’t shy away from hokeyness. He’s an entertainer and the band’s matching nudie suits and flashy appearance highlighted that these were showmen, with a bit of razzle-dazzle. The set was jam-packed, and the band moved swiftly from one number to another, frequently with a bit of exposition from Yoakam about a song's origins. Notably, Yoakam played up the California history of country music with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos covers (“Streets of Bakersfield”) and some heartfelt discussion about his history with Buck in his later years. Of the originals, I loved the laconic swagger of “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose,” where he really plays up the hiccup in the vocal that everyone has borrowed from Buddy Holly over the past seventy years, and he didn’t shy away from the hamminess in “Always Late (With Your Kisses),” apparently an old Lefty Frizzell song. I left shortly after his cover of “Ring of Fire,” another universal song, and “Guitars, Cadillacs,” his breakthrough from 1986, which featured some hot-shit guitar and fiddle soloing. Apparently I missed a cover of “Suspicious Minds” in the encore. I liked almost all of it; the set was generous and the band impeccable, but the ironic hokeyness in some of the presentations was a bit more than my own tastes in roots music would prefer.

Dwight Yoakam Setlist at The Anthem, Washington on May 31, 2024

Opener Landon Turner was presenting a jovial mix of bro country when I came in, and I missed almost all of his set except for one song about going back to the bar when you were still hung over. It was very much standard 21st century dude-country. However, I apparently missed his medley of “Chattahoochee” with the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” and Blink-182’s “All the Small Things,” which might’ve been fire.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 06/17/2024 09:37PM by zwirnm.
Re: Dwight Yoakam, Mavericks, The Anthem, Washington DC, May 31, 2024
June 18, 2024 02:34PM
"like if you took the E Street Band and merged it with Fania All-Stars"- haha!

Dwight's Vegas style is fine by me and the missus. We think it's fun. We even saw him in Vegas once.
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