GRAND PRAIRIE â" Chris Isaak clearly belongs to another musical era. Back then the songs were uncluttered, direct and stirring with a sultry undertone. Guitar solos were muted yet sharp. The notes slithered beneath the skin, slowly taking over the body. The voices were robust and vulnerable, able to connect with everyday men and women.
So when Isaak recorded 2011â²s Beyond the Sun, his tribute to the music crafted at Memphisâ iconic Sun Studio by the legendary Sam Phillips, the results were so second nature that it made us all wonder what took him so long?
In concert Friday night at Verizon Theatre, Isaak and his superb five-man band â" bass player Rowland Salley, drummer Kenney Dale Johnson, guitarist Hershel Yatovitz, pianist Scott Plunkett and percussionist Rafael Padilla â" delivered nearly two hours of originals and covers steeped in that retro coolness. Wearing a sequined red suit, and later a glittery silver two-piece, Isaak preserved the legacy of those that built the rock ânâ roll foundation.
So many of his self-penned composition could easily work as homages to his influential predecessors Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Iâm talking about concert highlights such as 1986â²s hazily melancholy âBlue Hotel,â the accordion-filled corker âPretty Girls Donât Cry,â the moody gem âSomebodyâs Crying,â the stunning ballad âWicked Game,â and the strut-worthy rockers âDancinââ and âNotice the Ring.â
But itâs not just the expert musicianship and rich vocals that make Isaakâs songs crackle onstage, itâs the manâs deliciously sinister personality. His offbeat sense of humor is equal parts self-deprecating and flippant. The more he talked, the more he made us laugh.
Thereâs also something warm and endearing about Isaak, like he truly treated that performance as a way to interact with friends instead of merely fans. He walked through the entire venue while singing âWeâve Got Tomorrowâ and invited three women up to the platform for dancing and merriment during one groove-intensive number.
When he finally reached the Beyond the Sun portion of the show, complete with a âMemphis Recording Studioâ neon sign hanging behind the band, he was ready to deliver Cashâs âRing of Fireâ with a South-of-the-border feel, Presleyâs âCanât Help Falling In Loveâ and âItâs Now or Neverâ with pathos and passion, Lewisâ âGreat Balls of Fireâ with unbridled verve. Plunkettâs piano was literally smoking during that one.
And still it was Isaakâs own âBlue Spanish Sky,â a gorgeous ballad made all the more seductive by special guest Johnny Renoâs tenor saxophone solo, that transported me to a bygone musical era. Isaak would have fit right in with those legends.
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