Chris Isaak got good and comfortable with the stage, his band and the audience Tuesday night at the Calvin Theater in Northampton. Most of all, he got a lot more comfortable in sequins than just about any musician currently performing.
The only opener was Mia Dyson, a singer/songwriter from Australia. She has been on tour with Isaak, and apparently somewhere down the line she acquired his hairstyle. With just her guitar and her voice, she conjured some undeniable power. She is definitely a vocal talent to look out for, and a highly capable blues-rock guitarist. Her songwriting unfortunately lagged a little, and the lack of backing band didn’t help.
Fortunately, Chris Isaak and his band weren’t far behind. As promised, he wore a classic sequined suit to go with his flashy, white, one-off Gibson guitar. The band, of course, wore uniform gray.
The sound was big and warm and full of reverb, just like it should be (read: like it used to be). For the number of times Isaak said the word “rock’n’roll,” he did not disappoint with the rockin’ and rollin’. He and the band were on point. It seems he has been keeping in shape, both physically and vocally. He could consistently hit the highest high notes just as well and just as long as on the record.
Besides being an all-around extremely polished band, Isaak’s boys had a few tricks up their sleeves. The kind of tricks that would make a 13-year-old roll his eyes so far he might pick up a spare. We’re talkin’ about rockin’. The old-fashioned kind. Three men in suits, three guitars, perfectly synchronized – a measure or two leaning back and forth together, then either scatter or move on to something more advanced, like two of the guys hopping over to stage left on one foot.
The whole thing was full of that kind of edgy-back-in-1958 fun, even when there was no music. Between songs, Isaak would make jokes with the audience, usually at his grinning bandmates’ expense. His stage presence during these intervals resembled a slightly drunk, very ambulatory Johnny Carson with four Ed McMahons to wander between. And when he got tired of them, he wandered into the audience and hugged a few moms. The moms responded well, as the entire theater stood up to dance to more than a few tunes.
The set-list was richly varied between Isaak’s hits (“both of them,” as he half-joked), plenty of his deep cuts, some Christmas music both original and standard, and a few recognizable covers. Yes, he played “Wicked Game,” and yes it tore everyone’s heart in two. He also played a handful of songs from his “Forever Blue” album (“Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing,” “Go Walking Down There,” “Somebody’s Crying”), and a few from his latest album “Mr. Lucky” (“Cheater’s Town,” “You Don’t Cry Like I Do”) among many others.
Just before the last song of the main set, “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing,” Isaak took off his sequined jacket and rocked a tight black t-shirt, which was appropriate for by far the sexiest song of the night. He must be some kind of costume genius, because during the minute or so between the end of that song and the encore, he changed into what can only be described as a suit-shaped disco ball.
Taking care not to blind too much of the audience, he closed out the night with a healthy encore that included “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Pretty Woman,” before ending on a roguish and dramatic note with his “Blue Spanish Sky.”
Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]