LIVE: Chris Isaak @ The Egg, 9/16/14
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Resplendent in a flashy, royal blue, sequin-spangled suit, crooner Chris Isaak explained to the nearly sold-out crowd at The Egg’s Hart Theatre, “If you see someone wearing a suit like this, you’re either going to see some figure skating… or some semi-professional entertainment.”
His self-deprecating kidding aside, Isaak didn’t lace up any skates. And the entertainment level was way above the semi-pro level. It was, in fact, like a rock ‘n’ roll show from some bygone era, as slick as his signature pompadour, but never so overly polished that it got in the way of some great music.
Almost 30 years after scoring his big breakthrough hit with the smolderingly sensuous ballad “Wicked Game,” the 58-year-old Isaak still has his surprisingly youthful, movie-star good looks. But don’t hate him because he’s beautiful… The man can sing. And underneath the show-biz glitz beats the heart of an unrepentant retro-rocker.
Toward the end of his 100-minute show, he proudly wore his influences on his sleeve, serving up Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” (a showcase for keyboardist Scott Plunkett) and a bit of “My Happiness,” the first song that Elvis Presley recorded – all from his latest album, Beyond the Sun, an obviously heartfelt tribute to the artists who recorded for the great Memphis label, Sun Records.
And he paid homage to his biggest vocal influence – the late great Roy Orbison – with the towering “Only the Lonely” (with drummer Kenny Dale Johnson stepping up front to supply high harmonies) and the pussycat growl of “Oh, Pretty Woman” (with Hershel Yatovitz effortlessly uncorking one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history). Along with Raul Malo of the Mavericks (who land at The Egg on Thursday, November 6), Isaak is the finest torchbearer of Orbison’s keening, aching tenor.
And the unmistakable Orbison influence was evident throughout Isaak’s show, especially on “Let Me Down Easy” and the ballad “You Don’t Cry Like I Do,” and while he fired off some uptempo rockabilly – notably the opening chug through “Gone Ridin’,” “Don’t Make Me Dream About You” and the top-down, highway cruise through “Goin’ Nowhere” – he was at his best when he was doing his melancholy crooning on gems like the falsetto-laden Philly soul-stroll encore of “Can’t Do a Thing (To Stop Me),” “Forever Blue,” the slippery, sexy “Lie to Me” and, of course, “Wicked Game,” with wisps of stage fog swirling around his feet.
Not merely an A-list crooner with a wry sense of humor, Isaak is an all-around, thoroughly engaging entertainer, adding some nifty choreography with Yatovitz and bassist Rowland Salley and roaming through the crowd while singing “Don’t Leave Me On My Own” and the Latin-tinged “Lovers Game,” fueled by Cuban percussionist Rafael Padilla.
And he returned for his brace of encores sporting his trademark suit covered in mirrors, swiveling his hips in the spotlight as he sang “Big Wide Wonderful World,” a living disco ball. Now that’s entertainment…
While he’s played SPAC as an opening act for the likes of Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt, this show was Isaak’s long-overdue Albany headlining debut. Let’s hope he had as good a time as the audience did…
CHRIS ISAAK SET LIST
Don’t Leave Me On My Own
Notice the Ring
Let Me Down Easy
This Love Will Last
You Don’t Cry Like I Do
Don’t Make Me Dream About You
Lie to Me
San Francisco Days
My Happiness (Elvis Presley) (aborted)
Only the Lonely (Roy Orbison)
Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
You Took My Heart
Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing
Oh Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)
Big Wide Wonderful World
Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
Can’t Do a Thing (To Stop Me)