Okay, this will probably be more like “Early Saturday Morning Videos” by the time I get it written and posted, but hey, I’ve had one of those weeks…
I was vaguely aware of Chris Isaak’s breakthrough hit “Wicked Game” back in college — I remember thinking of him as “that guy who sounds like Roy Orbison” — but I didn’t really discover him until after I was out of school and trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life. It was a good time for his music, which tends to be a bit downbeat, to really resonate for me, and I spun his CDs a lot for a couple of years. In point of fact, he does sound a lot like Orbison, and a bit like Elvis, too, and even sometimes like Johnny Cash, and while he can and does perform plenty of uptempo rockers, his real specialty is dreamy, melancholy songs that are best played at two in the morning. But Chris Isaak’s music isn’t the sitting-in-the-bar-at-two-in-the-morning kind of stuff; rather, it makes you think of driving through the desert in the wee hours, with the windows down and a fragrant breeze pouring over you, and a full moon riding over your shoulder and painting the landscape silver.
I still like Chris Isaak, and earlier this week, Anne and I, along with our friends Geoff and Anastasia, saw him live for the second time. On both occasions, I found myself wondering why this guy never made a bigger splash. He’s not unknown, of course, but he’s should’ve been huge. He’s a talented musician and singer, a romantic crooner with a face that’s matinee-idol handsome, and he’s funny as hell, too. His live shows include nearly as much humorous banter — nearly all of it at his own expense — as music. I can only surmise that his deliberately retro sensibilities were too hard to categorize and market back when he was starting out. He loves the early rock era, the music that came out of Memphis’ legendary Sun recording studio in particular, and much of his own stuff is modeled after those old classics. He sprinkles many of them into his live sets, too, great old songs like Great Balls of Fire,” “Ring of Fire,” and “Only the Lonely.” And that’s not all: he and his band present themselves in a very old-fashioned manner, dressing in suits with a cowboyish flair and slicking their hair into pompadours. Personally, I love all that stuff, but I can see how it might have been hard to sell that in the era of grunge and boy bands and hip-hop.
Perhaps I underestimate Chris’ appeal, though. The Sandy Amphitheater, where he and his band the Silvertones performed Wednesday night, seemed to be a sell-out, and he’s a regular on the Salt Lake-area music scene. Anne and I tried to catch one of his shows for years before finally making it to one in 2013. Now I think we’ll probably go every chance we get. He is a consummate entertainer, and you definitely feel like you’re getting your money’s worth from one of his shows.
He always does “Wicked Game” in his concerts, of course, but the one I wait for, my favorite Chris Isaak song, was released a few years after “Game.” One of three singles from his 1995 album Forever Blue, it only reached number 45 on the charts, but that was high enough to be his second biggest hit, and it also earned Chris a Grammy nomination. (It lost to Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”) It’s sad, but it’s catchy, and it always takes me back to those yearning, questing years of my mid-twenties. Here’s “Somebody’s Crying.” Enjoy, have a good weekend, and good night!