Dwight Yoakam and company gyrate hips on guitars at Grand Casino


And oh honeys, it was hot.

I remember growing up, my grandma used to recount seeing Elvis, her most beloved Elvis, on Sullivan in the mid-50s. Glossy eyed, she'd recount those gyrating hips. She would have been a middle-aged woman, married and with two young kids at the time, but oh how even in her 80s Elvis still made her swoon. It's amazing what a few signature stage moves can do for a career, and at his Grand Casino show last weekend, Dwight Yoakam treated us to all of 'em. Hip swivels. Toe twists. An amazing ability to squat down while playing guitar and not rip those skin-tight jeans.

I grew up on the Dwight Yoakam who was covering Elvis for the Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack. The Dwight who put out a video featuring him chained to a model sporting a typical early-'90s bob cut.

I learned from Dwight how to make country sexy. You put a little Elvis in it (sometimes literally). You put a little groin in it. You twist your hip.

And Elvis's--er... Dwight's audience at the casino? Well, it probably would have been quite similar to the audience watching Sullivan save for a few screaming girls. Middle-aged folks, sitting around, just taking in the show. In case you've never been to one here's what a casino show looks like. It's a work conference. It's a wedding reception. It's folks sitting in banquet chairs.


During his 90-minute set, Dwight tossed most of his hits our way, including "Streets of Bakersfield," "Please, Please Baby," "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose," "What I Don't Know," "This Time," "Nothing's Changed Here," "Pocket of a Clown," "Honky Tonk Man," "Thousand Miles from Nowhere," "It Only Hurts When I Cry," "Little Ways," and "Fast As You," as well as covers of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Warren Zevon, Bee Gees and Gordon Lightfoot songs and his usual homage to Buck Owens.

This was my second time seeing Dwight in a casino and my only complaint remains that in that environment, you might as well be seeing him on TV. An audience, bellies full of casino grub, sit as if secured with glue to their seats, and so it's like watching a performance on Austin City Limits with its polite and quiet studio audience. Sadly, the real show never seems to begin until folks get out of their seats and come to the stage to dance (in this case, as initiated by a dude in my grandpa's striped overalls), and Dwight always responds in kind with a quickly amped-up performance.

Now, that's not to say his shows, even at casinos (where one can first eat a plateful of prime rib, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and egg rolls), aren't really good. He's a damned good performer, but a simple one--no contrived stage shtick or forced banter aside from the occasional well-planned move where all three guitar players lean back, tilt guitars in unison and shove out their pelvises (uh... what's that move called?). And like with his idol Buck Owens, Dwight's band is a band. It's not just a backing band. It's a band. As with the Buckaroos, they are always tightly in synch, in their synchronized stage moves, tight vocal harmonies, and a clear sense of rapport and professionalism.

The band's guitar player Eddie Perez, formerly of alt-country band The Mavericks, drives home the comparisons, playing the Don Rich to Dwight's Buck, his harmonies and clean guitar licks making him a dead ringer for the former Buckaroos frontman.

Now briefly enter Nikki's fantasy world. Lucinda Williams, married onstage Friday at First Avenue, stole my damned thunder because I too was married Friday night, to Eddie Perez, and we had a Honeymoon in Onamia at the casino following. Dwight's good, for sure, but seeing Perez play with his band always makes me feel how Grandma likely felt watching Elvis in '56. You think Dwight looks good in tight jeans? Perez's jeans are tighter. His hair flails wildly while he plays, and when he tosses his guitar over his back to play the mandolin licks in "Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose" before switching back to guitar, well, I fall in love. Not to minimize his musical abilities and all apologies to his wife if he has one (not gonna disclose whether or not I looked for a ring as to maintain an air of professionalism in case that isn't already lost on you)--the dude is a babe.

I'm going to sit here sighing in my little imaginary bubble now for a second. Enjoy some live Yoakam.