Review by Barry Brecheisen and Nathalie Voirin"Put your hands up all the people that are in committed relationships. It's actually more for us so we don't waste our time talking to you later," declared the modern day crooner cum t.v. star. Anyone with SHOWTIME has now become familiar with his signature dry humor. But even if you're still living in the dark ages it's hard to avoid the sight and sounds of the one and only 50s style rocker, Chris Isaak. Whether it is in cameo's with big movies like "Married to the Mob" and NBC's "Friends." Or hearing songs like "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" attached to film's like Stanley Kubrick's "Eye's Wide Shut." Chris Isaak has successfully attacked the mainstream with his retro songs of love gone wrong in this crazy little roller coaster we call life.
Photos by Barry Brecheisen
Also along for the ride was former Maniac, Natalie Merchant. The two are currently on a 17-date co-headlining outdoor "intimate" amphitheater tour. And by the looks of Saturday night, having the time of their life. First up was the always classy, Natalie Merchant. Now don't let the pink flowery getup fool you. Natalie Merchant may not be the typical hyped-up rock star, but she definitely has her own way of seducing the audience with whirling dance moves, thoughtful lyrics and an unmistakable voice that can shake the rafters.
Saturday night at Chicago's Tweeter Center was testament to that. Sitting down at a baby grand piano, she immediately drew the crowd in as she belted out her opener, "I'm Not Gonna Beg." A torch song for the recently rejected. It gave the audience a taste of what they would be in store for later in the night. A slow, trippy version of "Frozen Charlotte" followed. But the tempo, like the mood of the crowd, steadily escalated thanks to a barefoot Merchant hip-swinging to songs like "San Andreas Fault" and donning a boa for a sultry (if not somewhat campy) "Put the Law on You." The hair came down and Merchant worked the crowd while skipping down the aisles with wild abandon and offering riveting and extended versions of some of her top hits. Everything from the 10,000 Maniacs classic "These Are Days" to solo offerings like "Carnival" and "Wonder." As her able band revitalized the tunes with a funky backbeat, Merchant was in full gyrating mode.
Just as smoothly as the tempo escalated, Merchant segued into the haunting "This House is On Fire" and finished with a gratifying "Kind and Generous" as she emphasized to the crowd, "Thank you, thank you" No, Miss Merchant, thank YOU.
Looking revved up, Chris Isaak appeared confident and ready to win over the crowd. You'd have to be with that get-up. There aren't many people on this planet that could pull off a bright pink suit that easily could be spotted from the sky. Yet, some how I couldn't imagine him in anything else. Chris and the band kicked their set off with their familiar TV theme song, "American Boy." It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who only three days ago turned 46. Dipping daily into the Fountain of Youth, Chris looks ageless with his boyish good looks and vocal chords of an angel reminiscent of the one and only, Roy Orbison. In fact Isaak owes much of his sounds to Memphis' Sun Studios. Where the likes of Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and of course, Elvis Presley got their start.
The music of Chris Isaak speaks for all of us who have felt the pain of their hearts ripped out of their body and discarded into the street. You know what I'm talking about. The sheer quickening of panic that hits you when that special loved one comes home and sez, "we need to talk." The jaw dropping emotional emptiness is almost comforting when Isaak sings it. He's our voice of truth. The voice of reality with no added sweetener. We know exactly what he means when he sings, "It's strange what desire will make foolish people do. I never dreamed that I'd love somebody like you. And I never dreamed that I'd loose somebody like you," from 1989's Wicked Game. Who hasn't felt that betrayal.
Still, the genius of Isaak is that within all the songs of despair and the immature selfishness of the world, he is able to display this likeable goofy persona. If nothing else, Chris Isaak is the top salesman in his field. He may be selling you the book of hard knocks, but he does it in a way that makes you feel that you're not alone. It's impossible not to crack a smile with his in-between song banter. With tales like finding Chris' bass player, Rowland, rocking your trailer home with your faithful girl. It's stories like these that help to even out the mood allowing you to even laugh a bit at the world and gives you a chance to catch your breath. Tonight's set was no exception with a smattering of stories and songs that covered his whole career. From the Forever Blue CD, "Somebody's Crying", to "Speak of the Devil" and even 1986's "Blue Hotel."
For the encore, the stage instantly catapulted us back to the prom complete with streamers hanging from the rafters. Now it's hard to top that pink suit, but reappearing in a suit completely covered in mirrors would be one way of doing it. Isaak is a walking mirror ball as he offers us another helping of the risks you take if you walk down the dark path of love with "San Francisco Days" and "Life Will Go On." The latter being a song off of his current release Always Got Tonight. Eventually closing with the title track off of 1995's Forever Blue. Chris Isaak, backed by a talented collection of musicians, has a way with words and wrap that around a catchy melody and you really are onto something.
"Forever blue 'cause you love her, but she doesn't love you. You did your best, life did the rest. Your left forever blue." Isn't that the truth!
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