Concert Review: Chris Isaak Plays Wicked Long Set at Oregon Zoo

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Chris Isaak at the Oregon Zoo

Chris Isaak is simply awesome.

The founder of one of the greatest songs ever recorded played to a packed house on Sunday night in the penultimate concert of the Oregon Zoo’s Summer Concert series. Isaak and his band didn’t just perform, they entertained, playing 29 songs for nearly two hours – some of it during the rain – well past the regular setlist of about 20 songs.

Loaded with self-deprecating humor, Isaak joked that many in the audience were on probation and took the chance at seeing his concert over picking up trash as a penalty. He poked fun of his suit, a stylish get-up reminiscent of one his idols – Elvis Presley – and toyed with band mates all while showing just how fun a blend of 50s traditional rock n roll, honky tonk, and ballads mixed with Isaak’s vocals and modern touch can be.

The first half of the set consisted of Isaak’s original songs before he plunged into 2011’s mostly covers album Beyond the Sun which was recorded in Memphis’ Sun Studios – the birthplace of the originals.

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Chris Isaak jamming with bassist Rowland Salley

The up tempo “The Best I Ever Had” started the evening which was followed by “Speak of the Devil” and “Two Hearts.” You can’t get more pure than Isaak’s falsetto on “Two Hearts” and “Somebody’s Crying” – a crowd favorite that preceded “Wicked Game” – the song which propelled Isaak into the music stratosphere in 1991.

Isaak kept the paralyzing number, first heard instrumentally in the movie “Wild at Heart,” true to form with those haunting guitar wails and the soft tenor Isaak is so known for. He closed “Wicked” with that extended beautiful falsetto so luscious on the album tract but simply melting live. The band nailed it and could have gone home for the night after a rousing applause from a very happy crowd.

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Chris Isaak on stage with his brother Nick

The band stepped up the tempo with the very pop sounding “Go Walking Down There” and Isaak, with no more reason to prove his vocal strength, drops several octaves with “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing.” The band then left Isaak’s original material behind and jumped back a few decades starting with Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “It’s Now or Never” proved beyond a doubt that Elvis can indeed be found in Isaak’s DNA.

Isaak may be the face of the band but he certainly surrounds himself with some very capable musicians. Piano player Scott Plunkett did wonders with a complexly repetitive  “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and  a melodic “You Don’t Cry Like I Do.” Guitarist Hershel Yatovitz plays great lead and compliments Isaak’s rhythm guitar work. Bassist Rowland Salley sang his song “Killing the Blues” that Alison Krause and Robert Plant made famous.

Nearly 75 minutes in Isaak announced the band had Monday off and would just keep playing. And he wasn’t lying. Isaak performed a duet with brother, Nick, who was the opening act, on “Don’t be Angry,” and the band played for the first time live, the original “Lovely Loretta.”  Isaak even sang two songs with his brother when Nick was in the middle of his set. Isaak encored with originals “Blue Hotel,” “Big Wide Wonderful World” and “Western Stars.”

What, no “Graduation Day”? OK, beggars can’t be choosers.

Chris Isaak Portland Setlist (Oregon Zoo):

  1. The Best I Ever Had
  2. Speak of the Devil
  3. Two Hearts
  4. We’ve Got Tomorrow
  5. I Want Your Love
  6. San Francisco Days
  7. You Don’t Cry Like I Do
  8. Cheater’s Town
  9. Somebody’s Crying
  10. Wicked Game
  11. Go Walking Down There
  12. One Day in Your Life
  13. Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing
  14. Only the Lonely (Roy Orbison cover)
  15. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover)
  16. Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis Presley cover)
  17. It’s Now or Never (Elvis Presley cover)
  18. Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison cover)
  19. I Wonder
  20. ?
  21. Don’t be Angry (Duet with Nick Isaak)
  22. Killing the Blues (Sung by Rowland Salley)
  23. Lovely Loretta
  24. Live it Up
  25. I’ll Go Crazy (James Brown cover)
  26. Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis cover)
  27. Blue Hotel
  28. Big Wide Wonderful World
  29. Western Stars