Last Night: Chris Isaak at Arena Theatre
Chris Isaak is an accomplished singer and actor. He is also, as his performance at Arena Theatre Tuesday night proved, a great dancer, a snazzy dresser and a pretty funny guy.
The Houston leg of his "Beyond the Sun" tour just as easily could have been a comedy show, what with Isaak's between-song quips to the audience, his sitting on excited ladies laps and his lighthearted roasting of his four bandmates, particularly, Scott Plunkett, the pianist who "drinks a lot, so it feels natural" for him to be on the small theatre's dizzying rotating stage, and Rowland Salley, the bass player, who gyrated (and sweated profusely) between two blondes who snuck past security to the stage for "Bad Bad Thing."
The other guitarist, Hershel Yatovitz, was called "a beast" by Isaak before "She's Not You," and he proved himself to be such, leaping off the stage, yelping his way though a song-long guitar riff.
Isaak's suit, bedazzled with sparkly snowflakes (an Elvis-inspired bouffant, complete with sparkle guitars and drum set for his band, completed the look), probably started the humorous tone of the night; however, Isaak either purposely or unknowingly ignored the obvious and instead swaggered his way onto the round stage and into immediate strums of "American Boy," "Pretty Girls Don't Cry" and "Blue Hotel" before any verbal introductions were made.
In another funny theme of the night, Isaak's roadies were constantly scrambling onstage between songs to change out he and his band's instruments; their speed opposing Isaak and bandmates funny guy fluidity we found highly amusing.
The singer and musician must love the Bayou City, because he was so gracious as to bless us with two-steps, four-steps, near-censorable hip wiggles and jogs around the circular venue.
"This may the perfect place to do your dance of love for the people," said Isaak to Salley. "Stand up if you'd like to see the dance of love!" Cue a chorus of screams and "I Want Your Love," a ditty that appeared on Isaak's fourth album, San Francisco Days.
Back to his oufit. It would be much later in the show -- before a performance of Carl Perkins's banned radio song, "Dixie Fried" -- that he would make mention of his flamboyant garb.
"This is a very masculine suit. A lot of your professional athletes -- your figure skaters - wear suits like this," Isaak deadpanned.
Perkins's "Dixie Fried," Isaak then explained, broke three cardinal rules of radio back in the day. First, he said, it describes "a guy going into a honky tonk club, drinking a quart of whiskey and yelling, 'Get it on!'" Secondly, the guy carries a straight razor, and third, the guy gets "Dixie fried!" he squealed.
Despite his tendency toward comic relief -- the one-liners grew more and more frequent as the night wore on -- Isaak was all jokes aside when it came to his pitch-perfect tenor, best utilized over his 1989-released, 1990 hit single, "Wicked Game." (He latched a few notable howls onto the end of "Always Got Tonight," the title song to his 2002 album, too.)
Isaak, who has released eleven studio albums, credits Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and more rockabilly kings as his influences. He paid homage twice, channeling Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" during the show's jam session, a series of crowd-chosen songs performed after the "official" set.
Playing over 30 songs, is no easy crowd-pleasing feat, and if he works at it, Isaak could very well may be on his way to another crowd-pleasing career -- as a comedian.
Personal Bias: I'm not a rockabilly fan, but Isaak's concert was very entertaining, especially upon hearing "Wicked Game" live.
The Crowd: Oldie-but-goodie -- people, that is.
Overheard Seen in the Crowd: A rush of fans to the front of the stage after Isaak announced, to the horror of the people working security for Arena Theatre, that, "I didn't dress up like this so you couldn't take my picture." An increasingly frazzled security guard eventually got them back to their seats, but they didn't go without a fight.
Random Notebook Dump: Salley's (the bass player) suit was completely soaked in sweat by the end of the set. Wonder if anyone else noticed.