Thursday, August 13, 2015

Concert review: Chris Isaak

Review and photos: Robert Kinsler

Chris Isaak
Where: City National Grove of Anaheim
When: Aug. 11, 2015

Chris Isaak’s fast-moving set at the City National Grove of Anaheim on Tuesday night (Aug. 11, 2015) offered up an outstanding mix of sterling musical performances, great comedy and something that is not typically experienced at a rock show – a pure sense of fun.
In a set that spanned just under two hours, the Stockton native and his long-time band performed more than two dozen songs, mixing up memorable originals and timeless covers all while celebrating the legacy of his own heroes and the enduring connection he has with an adoring audience.
Although Isaak’s sound has always been rooted in a retro-styled roots-rock sound that recalls the likes of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, his authentic delivery in Anaheim proved he is much more than a nostalgia-mining impressionist.
As a band leader, singer-songwriter, entertainer and self-deprecating comedian, Isaak has been able to perfect his chops over the course of more than 30 years and brought all those gifts to Anaheim. Kicking off with the exuberant “Best I Ever Had,” Isaak and the five members of his band immediately involved the crowd in the good times; Isaak got everyone laughing as he playfully executed a “no no” while intentionally positioning himself in front of lead guitarist Hershel Yatovitz as he was performing his first big solo of the night.
Isaak and company then showed how quickly they could turn things around, performing the beautiful “Somebody's Crying,” a highlight on his 1995 album “Forever Blue.” Isaak's voice matched the tender lyrics revolving around a romantic breakup.
“Thank you for showing up and supporting live music,” the colorfully adorned Isaak said early in his performance. “If you don't show up, there's nowhere else for me to wear this suit.”
Isaak’s set would prove to be full of highlights, whether it was a hushed and nuanced version of his early ’90s hit “Wicked Game” (displaying the full power of Isaak's still soaring falsetto vocals), a mostly-faithful and inspired take on Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” a sweeping “San Francisco Days” featuring Isaak on lead guitar, and the beautiful acoustic ballad “Forever Blue.”
During an extended “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing,” he was able to fit a quick run into the audience before coming back to the stage and inviting more than a dozen women on stage to dance to the infectious gem.
Isaak also performed two brand new songs, both of which were terrific. Early on he offered up “Don't Break My Heart,” a mid-tempo rocker that recalls some of the Mavericks' recent recordings. Later, Isaak somehow was able to blend the sounds of Orbison and Swedish pop legends ABBA on his own “Perfect Lover.” That song was especially impressive, with Isaak’s distinctive voice enhanced by an arrangement including a dynamic interplay between Yatovitz’s guitar and Scott Plunkett’s textures on the keyboards.
The concert came to an end too soon, but not until Isaak performed an poignant “Can't Do a Thing (To Stop Me),” a song that allowed him to again showcase his amazing voice while the band directed the song from its quiet intro to a soaring finale.

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