Monday, August 26, 2013

Concert Review: Sheryl Crow and Dwight Yoakam at the Minnesota State Fair

Sheryl Crow

Dwight Yoakam
Last night I saw Sheryl Crow and Dwight Yoakam in concert at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. The State Fair is a great place to see a concert, even though it was 96 degrees in the Twin Cities yesterday. It was about 90 degrees when the concert started at 7:30, so it was still pretty sweltering. 

I’m a big Sheryl Crow fan, so she was the reason my wife and I went to last night’s show. I saw Crow in concert on her “Wildflower” tour in 2006, back in my pre-blogging days, and I wrote a review of her excellent 2008 album “Detours” here. I’ve heard a lot about Dwight Yoakam over the years, but I don’t own any of his music. I was impressed with Yoakam’s voice and style, but he’s not a very exciting live performer. He was very low-key last night-I think he smiled twice during the show. Yoakam was funny when he talked, but he hardly said anything all night. Dwight was upstaged by his charismatic lead guitar player, Eugene Edwards, who laid down many scorching solos and seemed to be having a ball. Yoakam’s band was excellent, a four piece group that gave his music the proper rockabilly flavor, with some spicy solos thrown in. While the volume of Yoakam’s voice was just fine, it seemed to get buried in the sound mix, as it was very tough for me to understand the words that he was singing. I had the same problem during Sheryl Crow’s set, unfortunately. 

Yoakam performed a 70 minute set that included several of his big country hits and some interesting covers. One of the highlights of the concert for me was a lovely version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” but with a totally different arrangement than Cash’s. I didn’t even recognize the song until Yoakam started singing the chorus.

Sheryl Crow’s set was fantastic, as she had more energy and charisma in her first two songs than Yoakam had in his whole set. Crow smiles all the time while she’s singing, and she seems really happy to be performing. 

Before I became a fan of her music, I had a love/hate relationship with Sheryl Crow. Back in 2005 I was annoyed that her songs were constantly on the radio at work. It became a running joke with me and my co-workers that the day wasn’t complete unless we heard “Soak Up the Sun,” or “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” But I slowly figured out how catchy her songs were, and eventually I realized that even though I was still mocking Crow’s songs, I actually kind of liked them. I was throwing snowballs at the girl I had a crush on. Finally I broke down and bought “The Very Best of Sheryl Crow” and admitted that I had become a fan of her music.

Crow’s band was excellent, providing stellar support all night long. Her band is a 6 piece group, featuring two lead guitarists who were both great soloists. All the members of her band also look like they’re from the 1970’s, which fits her music very well. Sheryl played a lot of different guitars last night, from acoustic to several different electrics, and she even played harmonica on “Real Gone” and “Best of Times.” 

Crow’s set was a mixture of her most famous songs and a number of songs from her upcoming album “Feels Like Home,” which will be released in September. “Feels Like Home” is billed as Crow’s first “country” record, although she’s always had country influences in her music. “Feels Like Home” is also Crow’s first album for Warner Music Nashville, after spending her entire career with Interscope/A&M. Crow has been quoted as saying that her record label “didn’t know what to do with me.” This strikes me as an odd thing for her record company to say. What do you do with Sheryl Crow? Well, just let her make more records the way she wants to. But I suspect that her label wanted her to keep coming up with hit singles. Crow’s last big hit single was a cover of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest” back in 2003. Her subsequent albums “Wildflower,” “Detours,” and “100 Miles From Memphis” didn’t produce any big hit singles. But those albums still sold well, and all three debuted in the Top 3 of the album charts. Personally, “Wildflower” and “Detours” are my two favorite Sheryl Crow albums. I think they’re outstanding albums from a very talented songwriter. To me Sheryl Crow is more than just someone who produces hit singles, she’s a truly great songwriter, and it’s too bad her old label didn’t see her this way.

Crow has an infectious energy onstage, and she bonded easily with the crowd, saying how much she loves the Midwest. She also said that she “always wanted to be a butter queen.” (A reference to the State Fair’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way, who gets her face carved in frozen butter.) Personally, I think Sheryl Crow would make a great butter queen, with her beautiful wide smile. Yes, I might have a bit of a crush on Sheryl Crow. But she’s beautiful, talented, confident, funny, and has a gorgeous voice-why shouldn’t I have a crush on her? Her versatile voice sounded great last night on both rockers like the opening “Steve McQueen” and “A Change Would Do You Good,” and ballads like “Strong Enough” and the new song “Give It To Me.” Crow would occasionally slightly change a melody line or a phrasing from her earlier songs, which I liked hearing. She still stayed true to the feeling of the song, while keeping things interesting. Crow sang 5 songs from “Feels Like Home,” which I think will be an excellent album based on the songs I heard last night. My only complaint is that she didn’t play any songs from “Wildflower” or “Detours.” I was very happy that she played "Real Gone," her song from Pixar's movie "Cars," as that's one of my favorite songs of hers.

The highlight of the show was probably the ending, as Sheryl sang “Picture,” her hit duet with Kid Rock, which led directly into “If It Makes You Happy.” The audience was on their feet for “Soak Up the Sun,” a perfect song for this hot night, and the closing “Everyday Is a Winding Road.” The encore was also excellent, as Sheryl previewed a new song “Give It To Me,” which showed off her gorgeous, powerful voice. Sheryl then closed the show with a rocking cover of Led Zeppelin’s classic “Rock and Roll.” It was a great show, and just as Sheryl was taking her final bows, the nightly State Fair fireworks started going off, a great ending to a hot August night. 

Sheryl Crow set list:

Steve McQueen
All I Wanna Do
My Favorite Mistake
Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely
A Change Would Do You Good
Can’t Cry Anymore
Real Gone
Best of Times
The First Cut is the Deepest
Strong Enough
Picture/If It Makes You Happy
Soak Up the Sun
Everyday Is a Winding Road
Give It To Me
Rock And Roll-Led Zeppelin 

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