The joy of Chris Isaak.
That joy is found under smoky skies with an orange hued half-moon hovering overhead as the modern day 50s man worked through a 24 song set on Saturday night at the Oregon Zoo in front of a sold out crowd.
The smoke laden air from the forest fires raging miles away in Eastern Oregon did little to deter anyone from showing up on a day at least 10 degrees cooler than originally predicted thanks probably to the smoggy filter that really stunted the sun’s rays.
The audience, a bit abbreviated from past year’s sell-outs thanks to the zoo’s construction of a new and much larger elephant enclosure that’s about halfway done but eats into a sizable chunk of the quasi amphitheater for the summer concert series, squished together, in some places pretty tightly, with some dancing throughout and occasionally standing up en masse to their favorites.
The Oregon Zoo Summer Concert series is not the most comfortable place to watch a show and in fact could rise to the level of premier venues if officials carved out an actual setting complete with assigned seating for everyone rather than the general admission lawn for most where people, often latecomers, plop right down in front of you. There isn’t much of a rise giving way to a “stadium style” seating but the sound is fantastic and the backdrop of Forest Park is a sight to behold. But that’s the subject for another article.
Isaak opened with the country rock fused “Best I Ever Had,” the beautifully drippy “Somebody’s Crying” and “Two Hearts” which featured his great falsetto. He toured the audience with “Don’t Leave Me On My Own” and then the first of several covers “Oh Pretty Woman.”
Isaak considers many of rock and roll’s originals like Elvis, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly as his influences and boy does he sounds so much like them. When he ripped into “Great Balls of Fire” it sounded like his song and perhaps it is now, besides who else is going to take on the mantle of all those early greats?
Certainly no one else is as popular as Isaak whose catalogue of original material extends 30 years with a new album arriving sometime in October, his first in four years and first of new material since 2009’s Mr. Lucky. The Elvis inspired, or as he put it the “bad Elvis” inspired “Don’t Break My Heart” provided a hint of what’s to come (think Hawaiian Elvis)as did the Orbison influenced “Perfect Lover” which Isaak said, perhaps in gest, featured a bit of Abba.
He’s quite the character too often poking fun at his bandmates especially piano player Scottie Plunkett who suffered the brunt of it, but he threw it right back in the band leader’s face especially when Isaak started began playing “5:15” during the encore. Plunkett suddenly stopped about 10 seconds in and asked to play something more up tempo.
Isaak’s music isn’t fraught with hard-charging rock chords, blistering solos or heart pounding drums, but he’s definitely got a hard rock side to him as he and guitarist Hershel Yatovitz ended “Go Walking On Down There” with a solid arena rock jam.
No Chris Isaak show is complete without “Wicked Game” a masterpiece of song writing that exploded his career 25 years ago. And for good reason. Needing no introduction, those haunting chords casually broke through the haze filled air right after “San Francisco Days” much to the delight of the crowd. Perfectly executed with Isaak, now just a year removed from 60 if you can believe that, holding on to that amazing ending note just as he did so many years ago.
Isaak balanced the set out well bouncing from his slower ballads to the more rock oriented fare. Calling his music “easy listening” feels more of a disservice considering what is traditionally known as “Easy Listening” but in many respects it is exactly that. There’s no need to know any of his songs to enjoy a 100 minute long set, even the ones he covers that ruled the airwaves 50 years ago. If not for nostalgia which many in the crowd certainly appreciate, the fluid melodies, the tight playing and his stage charm make for a perfect evening of live music. Besides, who doesn’t get caught up in the trance so many of his ballads offer.
That’s the joy of Chris Isaak.
Chris Isaak Portland (Oregon Zoo) Setlist:
- Best I Ever Had
- Somebody’s Crying
- Two Hearts
- Don’t Leave Me On My Own
- Oh Pretty Woman
- American Boy
- San Francisco Days
- Wicked Game
- Go Walking On Down There
- Don’t Break My Heart
- Don’t Make Me Dream About You
- Forever Blue
- Can’t Help Falling in Love
- Great Balls of Fire
- Speak of the Devil
- Perfect Lover
- Blue Hotel
- My Happiness
- Ring of Fire
- Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing
- Big Wide Wonderful World
- Can’t Do a Thing to Stop Me