Nearly 20 years after breaking through, thanks indirectly to film director David Lynch, Chris Isaak proved still popular enough to pack Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium on Sunday — and for good reason: the man can put on a show.
Isaak has charisma to spare, several albums of haunting, melodic songs to draw from and, even at age 54, he’s still easy on the eyes. Above all this is his voice, crooning one minute, hitting a high falsetto the next, still as strong as ever.
Isaak and his band, Silvertone, along with producer Erik Jacobsen, re-introduced the joys of reverberation long before indie rock’s recent infatuation with it. Yes, Isaak’s music is retro and stylized (what isn’t anymore?) but, judging by the audience at the show at Chautauqua, it seems no one under 50 is buying.
Too bad. His 2009 release, “Mr. Lucky,” added a bit more song variety and sonic dimension. Maybe he’d get some indie cred by name- dropping Ennio Morricone as an influence (there’s an unmistakable Western element in much of Isaak’s material), rather than just Sun Studios- era Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley.
Coming out in a red suit and rocking from the get go, Isaak and the band played songs spanning Isaak’s long career. Few performers interact with an audience like Isaak, venturing well out into the crowd while vamping Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” Isaak is known for doing stage shtick better than almost any musical act. Nearly every member of Isaak’s band, Silvertone, is employed in this, which, in less capable hands, can come off looking dumb or hokey. Not at all here. Nearly all have personality to spare, as well as above- average chops.
Drummer Kenny Dale Johnson, often a foil of Isaak’s repartee, added great background vocals (almost a one man Jordanaires) as does bassist Rowland Salley. Both have been with Isaak for over 25 years. Hershel Yatowitz, Silvertone guitarist since 1995 creates the surf/ western/ twang/ jangle that provides Isaak’s biggest draw after his voice. Keyboardist Scott Plunkett, relatively new to the band, brings more coloring and weight to Silvertone’s already big sound, which, incidentally, had no trouble filling the vast barn like setting of Chautauqua. Yes, they played “Wicked Game,” (saddest makeout song ever), Isaak mixing a few uptempo songs with his trademark melancholy, pity-party perfect songs about loneliness and heartbreak.
A highlight of the 90-minute-plus set was a seated, “unplugged” segment. Isaak carried the songs with the force of his voice, joined by the whole band, including percussionist Raphael Padilla. Isaak added a few choice covers, Hank Snow’s “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” and the Haitian folk song “Yellow Bird.”
The show wrapped up with a multi-song encore, “Blue Hotel” off Isaak’s second album, “She’s About a Mover” by Doug Sahm’s Sir Douglas Quintet, with Salley on lead vocals, a killer version of Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and the closer, the beautiful, plaintive “Blue Spanish Sky.”
Isaak must like playing Colorado. He’s back next month, playing Greeley and Colorado Springs.
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Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Allen Klosowski is the social media strategist for The Denver Post. Check out his photos online.