October 13, 2010
Even though I’ve experienced two great shows thus far, a part of me had slight reservations about another live concert. You see, my history with them have always been rather hit or miss. Austin may be a mecca for live music, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a high caliber show. For instance, one can find live music at a good number of restaurants and outdoor venues, but that’s no guarantee it equates into a good experience. Off the top of my head, I had a lackluster encounter recently at
Hyde Park & Grill a certain restaurant I won’t name, where the live entertainment consisted of a woman singing with a live band with a baby strapped to her body. Yes, just like Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover. Yeah. Luckily, the food is always pretty darn good there. My lesson was learned, though. I’ll be dining inside from now on.
So yeah, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with live performances. I’ll be the first to admit I was blown away by Omara Portuondo, though, so I’m hypothesizing that the venue has a lot to do with it. Good thing Chris Isaak’s show is at The Paramount, since it’s obviously one of my favorite places ever (as if any long-time reader would know).
I arrived pretty early for the event, and there were still a heck of a lot of people already there. The crowd consisted of all ages, but I noticed something right away. It clearly was a mid-week “date night” for most in attendance. Hmmm. For an artist like Isaak (with his sultry tunes), this is a bit of a no-brainer. Alas, I was attending tonight without the company of my beloved; and began to feel left out.
Glancing around shortly before the start time, I saw a packed house. It was impressive to see so many people filling up the theatre. The buzz was electric, and finally the house lights went down. Executive director Ken Stein came out and expressed his appreciation to the large turnout. He also reminded everyone to please turn off cell phones as to not disrupt the show. The method in which he does this never ceases to make me smile. Stein asks for everyone’s attention, makes the cell phone announcement, and then asks anyone unwilling to do so to please join him in the lobby during the show. At that point, Ken adds, he will be happy to have a heart-to-heart conversation with them about how to have a life again. I’ve heard this a few times before the shows, and I chuckle every time. That night the crowd roared in approval. No one wanted any distractions. With the business out of the way, he introduced the opening act, singer-songwriter Amy Cook.
I gotta admit, friends and dear readers, I was impressed with her set. A transplanted Californian, Cook now calls Austin home, and so I imagine it was a real treat for her to perform in front of the home crowd. Heck, it was a treat for me (as I must confess I had not heard of her before that evening). She played and I found myself captivated by her sound, reminiscent of Brandi Carlile (whom I absolutely love, by the way). Her music was dignified and soulful, and I was particularly taken with the song “Hotel Lights.” Cook seemed ever so humble up there on stage, and her chats between songs about Austin and Chris Isaak were so casual it put the audience at ease with her mellow sound. As she wound down her set, however, Amy sang a cover of Del Shannon’s classic “Runaway” that really got us all going. By the time the chorus came around, we all were singing “I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder why Ah-why-why-why-why-why…” That’s right, the fun was underway, and Amy had us all pumped up for the main event.
As Ms. Cook exited, the lights came up and we all took a brief break as the stage had the finishing touches applied. I stretched in my seat and glanced around to look for any friends amongst the patrons. I was half-expecting to see an old friend of mine who lives in Austin (and is one of those fanatics I spoke about in my preview), but had no luck. Of course, finding one face among the hundreds was a futile venture. I turned on my phone to check if there were any messages, and found a text message. Lo and behold, it was from that very friend. She told me she was there, sitting by herself next to an empty seat (her companion was unable to attend). Speak of the devil, huh? I made my way through the crowds and found her.
I sat next to her and we caught up for a few minutes. Then she excitedly began to tell me what to expect during the show. She explained that she has attended every Chris Isaak show in Austin over the past ten years or so. That, my friends, is dedication. Through her excited animated descriptions, I was relieved to not get that “scary vibe” from this super fan. Her vibe was enthusiasm, not insanity. It’s the kind of fandom that produces genuine happiness, not restraining orders. Her vigor was infectious, and now I had Isaak fever as well. In mid-sentence, the house light went down again. Ack! No time to return to my seat; instead I settled in.
Lights dimmed, and all eyes turned towards the stage. The music began blaring and everyone’s hands were clapping together as he stepped onto the stage. Chris Isaak. Giddyup!
And what a fantastic show it was! If I had to describe it in one word, it would be… vivid. No, I’m not referring to the dazzling lights or the lively band clad in silver (the band name is “Silvertone,” after all), or the turquoise-clad Isaak himself. “Vivid” means the energy was high, and the entire performance was a very colorful and stylized production. Up on stage, Chris was boundless in his stamina. At one point (covering Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”), he cavalierly sauntered down the steps of the stage and cruised the aisles, crooning to individuals and occasionally even sitting down next to them as he continued singing. Wow. That’s not your typical serenade, now, is it?
But the lucky ones weren’t just at orchestra levels. While in the aisles, he made a mad dash for the upper levels. Those of us down below could hear him up in the mezzanine, and the screams and squeals indicated the approval of the masses. We glanced up to try and see where he disappeared to, and POW! He then appeared like a jack-in-the box in one of the balconies. Can you imagine that? One thing for certain, he gave the couple in those seats a story they will tell for many years to come. A truly awesome experience for those people, and for us gawkers.
It would be an understatement to say the crowd was into the performances. Heck, they were frenzied. Looking over at my normally demure friend, I was shocked to see her whooping and hollering at the top of her lungs. Goodness!
Not that everything was revelry and sunshine. Chris would frequently talk to the crowd between hits, and on occasion reflected how some labeled his work as songs about heartbreak and unrequited love. He hesitated, then agreed with that assessment. But oh, how we all just clamored for such melancholy. While most of the songs in his set had his usual uptempo rockabilly pulse in them, a few simmered the audience with the slow pangs of desire. When the signature chords of “Wicked Game” began, one could practically hear the audience melt… and swoon.
For me, one of the highlights was the rapport between Chris and his bandmates. The quips between he and Silvertone were sharp and funny, yet never had a hint of malice. You could feel the love between Isaak and his mates: Hershel Yatovitz (guitarist), Scott Plunkett (keyboardist), Kenny Dale Johnson (drummer, and a Texas boy), and Rolly Salley (guitarist and Grammy winner). Chris humbly acknowledged their contributions, even if done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The band got in their digs also, referring to Isaak’s outfit as that of an ice skater. But it was all in good fun, seeing those boys ribbing each other while playing their jam session. Watching this, I can see how Chris and the band were featured in a television show as themselves. Sure, that Showtime program may have been a bit of a Seinfeld rehash, but I never saw Jerry place the cereal bowl down long enough to rock out in a sensual voice while Kramer, George and Elaine played rock and roll.
All in all, it was a comical show with stunning production value and great music. What more could one ask for? And for the cherry on top, Chris had the last laugh on his band when he changed clothes for his encore. The costume, you ask? It was a suit made completely of mirrors. Yep. Showmanship. The mark of a true entertainer. Make no mistake, that’s exactly what Chris Isaak is.
After the slam dunk of an encore, my friend and I were standing with grins practically chiseled on our faces. We ventured towards the stage, searching for any discarded guitar picks, but had no luck. Wandering outside after the show, we continued talking for a long while beneath the The Paramount’s awning. I may have been without a date that night, but sharing favorite moments with a friend was not a bad way to go.
There’s no denying the draw of a performer of Chris Isaak. Like a modern Roy Orbison or even Ricky Nelson, his stirring voice captures hearts even as he sings about lament. But when one is treated to a show like I witnessed that night, the misery of love pains aren’t so bad. This was a live show I had no reservations about. In fact, heartbreak never sounded so damn good.