Monday, August 1, 2016

Chris Isaak concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Bill Alkofer/OC Register
Chris Isaak always sports flashy suits in concert. So the old school rock singer/guitarist just couldn’t help poking fun at the sparkly attire he wore at the Pacific Amphitheatre, comparing it to a figure skater and said, “we may bring the show up to BeyoncĂ© quality tonight.”

Truth be told, Isaak’s terrific performance on Friday had authenticity and showmanship in spades, handily surpassing that pop superstar. The 95-minute set featured songs ranging from 1985 debut LP “Silvertone” – also the name of Isaak’s longtime backing band – to last year’s engaging “Here Comes the Night.”

Serving as a judge for “The X Factor” Australia in 2015 provided a creative spark for Isaak's first album of all new material in six years. He went to Nashville and worked with country music heavy hitters such as producers Paul Worley and Dave Cobb (Lady Antebellum, Chris Stapleton and then was initiated into songwriting sessions with Natalie Hemby and Gordie Sampson (Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood), plus frequent collaborator Michelle Branch. The result doesn’t exactly sound like a country album, but retains some of the genre’s hallmarks (especially from the 1950s and ’60s).

In Costa Mesa, Isaak and his tight band opened with the reverb-drenched, understated drama of “Dancin.’” Now 60, the still trim vocalist easily nailed a sustained note which many contemporaries couldn't handle (more examples would come later).

Ladies in the crowd went wild when Isaak dashed out into the seats to do a cover of Pomus & Shuman’s “Doin’ the Best I Can” (from the Elvis Presley film “G.I. Blues” and Isaak’s “Beyond the Sun” tribute album) and the accordion-driven “Don’t Leave Me on My Own.”

A strident take on Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” was preceded by a story about how Isaak was in awe of meeting the legend. The tune’s familiar growl and high ascending vocal elicited loud cheers. Later, another Roy remake, “Only the Lonely,” was done stripped down, “Baja Sessions”-style, and equally strong.

The snappy “Go Down in Flames,” with shrewd lyrics revolving around pop culture figures’ deaths, was the first of four newer selections played. Its Jordanaires-styled backing vocals fared well live. Isaak’s signature hit “Wicked Game,” led by Hershel Yatovitz’s quietly shimmering guitar work, had fans in rapt attention, hanging on every word.

After noting that keyboardist Scott Plunkett grew up in nearby Placentia, Isaak parlayed it into a running joke. An acoustic segment including “Forever Blue,” “Pretty Girls Don’t Cry” and more was gorgeous. The straitlaced Isaak explained that despite the strange lyrics on new track “Insects,” he really wasn’t on drugs when writing them.

Silvertone was in total sync as their boss man paid homage to The King (“How’s the World Treating You,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love”) and The Killer (“Great Balls of Fire,” where Plunkett’s rollicking piano was a standout).

Toward the end, fans were treated to some of the band’s fun synchronized moves during a striking “Blue Hotel.” Women went even crazier for the bluesy “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing,” as Isaak oozed sexuality and invited a dozen of them onstage to dance.

Isaak returned for the encore in his famous mirrored suit, did the effusive “Big Wide Wonderful World” and closed with the subdued countrypolitan vibe of “The Way Things Really Are.”

This was definitely a good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll show that definitely left people smiling at the end.

My review originally appeared at

No comments: