Friday, November 23, 2012

Chris Isaak concert review- 11-17-12 Lexington, KY

Our friend Jen caught Chris Isaak's show in Lexington, KY recently and we asked for a full report.  There's still time to catch Chris on his current tour.  If you're trying to decide whether to go, Jen's account will help convince you to get out to see a show.  Here's her review of the night:

17 years. That’s how long it had been since I last saw Chris Isaak in concert. He took me by total surprise then – that was a free concert in the park hosted by a local radio station, and featuring Human League, Chris Isaak and Duran Duran. I came to see Duran Duran…but Chris Isaak stole the show and my heart! I never forgot the fun of that night, the great music, and the stage full of girls brought up from the audience to dance to “Diddley Daddy”.

So here I am, 2012, ticket in hand to see Chris Isaak perform at the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts. He’s still touring his 13th album, Beyond the Sun (released in 2011), a loving tribute to the rockabilly artists of Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, who have influenced him since he was a kid listening to his parents’ record collection while growing up in Stockton, California.

I was excited to have a 5th row seat, but even more so when I actually found my seat and saw how close I was to the stage! The opening act was a local group from Lexington, Coralee and the Townies, whose self-described “honky-tonk soul” sound was a perfect compliment to the night ahead. Coralee was adorable and animated as she belted out song after song with energy, backed by a tight group of talented musicians. Really a great sound to get the audience revved up!

Finally it was time. The lights lowered to blue, with intro music building to a frenzy, as the band, Silvertone (Rowland Salley, bass; Scotty Plunkett, keyboards; Kenney Dale Johnson, drums; Rafael Padilla, percussion; Hershel Yatovitz, guitar) took their positions on stage. And then… Chris Isaak – tall, lean, tanned, perfect pompadour, and looking much younger than his 56 years of age – walked onto the stage, the spotlight dancing off the sparkles of his black suit. He and his bandmates exchanged hand-slaps as the crowd leapt to their feet in wild applause. Just that quick the lights flashed bright as the band kicked into “American Boy” followed by the surf-twang of “Blue Hotel”.

When you go to a Chris Isaak show, it’s more than just a music concert. From his shining Nudie-style suits, to his banter and self-deprecating jokes with the band, to his walk-through around the theater, shaking hands and sitting on ladies’ laps (“Heavy, aren’t I?”) Chris is a true showman.

“I want to thank you all for coming out tonight to support live music,” he says, then adds, “because if you didn’t I’d be walking around Lexington in a sequined suit with nothing to do.”

“I don’t know if anyone told you not to take pictures, but go ahead and take all the pictures you want. I didn’t get dressed up like this for nothing,” he winked.

The first part of the show was all Chris Isaak, featuring favorites like “San Francisco Days”, “Somebody’s Crying”, “Dancin’” and “Notice the Ring” (one of my faves!). His 1991 breakthrough hit ”Wicked Game” still raises a collective sigh from the women in the audience with the first notes of the guitar’s longing, lusty twang. The driving bass of “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” had everyone dancing, as Chris joked about finding love for his lonely bass player, and inviting ladies from the audience on stage to dance around him.

Next was like a show within a show, as the pace slowed some with Chris singing Elvis Presley’s “Doin’ the Best I Can” and telling us of the influence the songs from Sun Studios have had on him, as the crew deftly turned the stage into a Memphis Recording Studio space, with a neon sign, Scotty Plunkett’s piano, and Rowland Salley playing upright bass. Chris kicked it up with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as the audience sang along. Then Chris told the story of Carl Perkins’ song, “Dixie Fried”:

“Kenney, tell these people here why this song was banned from the radio.”

“Well, Chris, I heard that, much like yourself, he used to wear those effeminate girly looking suits…”

“No Kenney, that’s not why it was banned… And I want you to know, there’s nothing effeminate about this suit. Your most macho athletes … you know, your figure skaters… they wear suits just like this.”

The audience roared with laughter as Chris and the band got “Dixie Fried”, then slowed things down again with a beautiful version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” that rivals anything done by Elvis himself. Chris finished this part of the show with a rocking version of Jimmy Wages’ “Miss Pearl”(“This song is about a bad woman, who leaves a trail of broken hearts and hickies wherever she goes.”), then right into Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” with Scotty Plunkett’s piano erupting in ‘flames’. The crowd went wild as Chris and the band raised their arms and waved a thank you before exiting the stage.

We knew the night wasn’t over yet, though, as the stage crew, in lights lowered to blue again, whisked away the studio setting. The band entered and took their places again, as Hershel Yatovitz tore into the surf-inspired instrumental “Super Magic”. Enter Chris Isaak again, now dressed in his famous encore suit covered entirely in mirrors, stopping to give the audience an eyeful as they snapped away on their camera phones, then blowing a kiss to his fans, hamming it up for all its worth. As the drums beat, the guitars sang, and Chris began, “Pretty woman, walking down the street…” a giant inflatable pinup girl appeared in the background, bouncing to the beat of the song. They finished the night with the soulful, swinging “Big Wide Wonderful World”. As the audience cheered, Chris held his guitar high in the air with the message “Thanks A Lot” in letters on the back.

As I gathered my things, heart racing from the excitement of the evening, I knew that sometimes Chris and his band meet with fans after the show, before they leave for the next city. As I walked outside, I heard the low rumble of an idling engine of a very large vehicle… I followed the sound to find the tour bus and a handful of fans waiting. As I neared the crowd I recognized Rowland Salley first, talking, posing for photos and scribbling autographs. I then saw Kenney, Scotty and Hershel also talking with fans. I approached Rowland, who was so kind and smiled so warmly, but I was so overwhelmed I could barely utter how wonderful the show was. Next I chatted with Kenney, who was so relaxed and funny it immediately put me at ease, and I felt as if I were talking with an old friend.

with drummer Kenney Dale Johnson
Then I turned around… and there HE was: Chris Isaak, looking even more handsome up close. I almost forgot I was wearing a little jacket I’d designed, in homage to Chris himself and his sparkly suits – I lettered his name in sequins on the lapels, and across the back copied his caricature from the album “Mr. Lucky” and added a sequined guitar, hearts and scattered rhinestones. I had felt a little conspicuous in it all evening, until that moment, when Chris turned and fixed his gaze on me, and I could see his eyes curiously studying my jacket.

“I made this for you!” I beamed.

“You did??” he smiled. A HUGE smile, clearly appreciative that I would go to such effort. As I turned around so he could see the back he said, “That is so cool! I wish I had seen that – I would have brought you on stage to dance! The next show you come to, wear that and I will!” I made him promise, and he agreed.

with Chris Isaak
Chris also was just as warm and relaxed as could be, and listened intently as I told him that this show was a birthday present to myself, and how long I’d wanted to see him perform. He wished me a happy birthday, and put his arm around my shoulder for a photo.

The whole evening was fantastic – and all the months building up to that evening were well worth the wait. Never again will I let 17 years slip by before I see Chris Isaak in concert again! There are only a few shows left to this tour, so if you’ve never seen his show before and he’s coming to your area, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket! You can see the list of events at

clip of "Pretty Woman"