There are certain phrases one does not expect to hear from a performer at a country music show, “This is a song about brunch,” is among them. But, it’s safe to say that Sam Outlaw isn’t a typical country music performer—a role he seems to embrace on stage, with tongue-in-cheek witticisms—even calling his hometown of Los Angeles “The country music capitol of California.”
Throughout his show at The State Room on Thursday night, Outlaw demonstrated the dichotomy of his existence in the country music world, as he bantered between songs with the small but focused crowd. Outlaw, which really is just-a-clever-name (his mama’s name, so the story goes—can you get more country music than that?), straddles a line between cocky stage presence and overall assholery—and not always well.
He trashed beloved Salt Lake venue Kilby Court, calling it “a butthole of a place,” seemingly without recognizing that if his crowds in Salt Lake don’t get any bigger he’ll probably end up right back at that butthole. He said about his child, “This all happened because two people did some weird shit in Wyoming,” Of course, it wouldn’t be a show in Salt Lake without some tone-deaf Mormon jokes, “Have we bummed all you weird Mormons out?” he asked. “I know you aren’t all Mormons—I’ve got Mormon family, I understand… Caffeine is a killer.” And then for good measure, he tossed in a couple of Utah’s so white jokes—because in other cities country music crowds aren’t white, I guess.
But, all real music fans know: When a performer is good enough, you can forgive the attitude.
Sam Outlaw is more than good enough.
Highlights from the set included “Country Love Song,” “Love Her For a While,” “Diamond Ring,” “Trouble,” and “Keep in Interesting” (“This is for my wife and my girlfriend… and her girlfriend,” Outlaw said of the song, which I’m pretty sure is about anal sex.)
Onstage, he sounds just like his albums. When he moved, knees to toes and hip swivel to hip swivel, it was reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam—and not just because of the tight blue jeans, cowboy boots and hat, though—let’s be honest—those never hurt. Outlaw gave plenty of due diligence to his band as he whipped through a set that included most of the songs from both of his studio albums, before bringing opener, Michaela Anne onstage again. “A lot of people think she’s just a pretty face,” Outlaw said of Anne, “But she’s a good songwriter, too, I think… It’s too bad she doesn’t have the personality to go along with it.” Har, har, har.
But there was a shift when she returned to the stage—things got looser. Things got better.
And before they covered the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris duet “We’ll Sweep the Ashes Out in the Morning,” (“I don’t usually do Gram Parsons songs,” he said, “Because people ask me to do them.” Okay, then.) Outlaw, who grows tired of comparisons to the creator of what we now call Americana music, may in fact be more like Parsons than he knows—he may well have found his own Emmylou in Anne.
And in the end, it seemed like Outlaw didn’t want to get off the stage, “I feel like singing another so, so we’re gonna,” to told the crowd before launching into an encore without ever leaving the stage, including a great cover of George Strait’s “One Night at a Time.”
At the beginning of the show, Outlaw told the crowd, “We’re just going to play song after song after until you start backing away.” But in the end, even Outlaw seemed surprised that no one had backed away.
Not bad for a room full of weird Mormons, eh, Outlaw?