Chris Isaak had a #1 hit on my soundtrack for high school senior year. It was a song that cut right to the heart for me and I am sure many other adolescents. And if the kids today actually listened to music, they’d understand too.
Naturally, I wanted to see him and this song played live but I failed to catch a Chris Isaak concert for more than 20 years. But, I haven’t missed one since.
Now I’ve seen him four times in the last five years and not only has he yet to disappoint but all those foolish memories rush in when the opening bars to “Wicked Game” ring out. He always plays it (he better!) and he did not disappoint on Thursday at the Athletic Club of Bend in Bend, OR.
Yes, a gym. A highfalutin gym but precisely why I made the three hour trek across a mountain to see him and what this venue offers.
Isaak opened his one hour 40 minute, 23 song set with “American Boy” off 2002’s Always Got Tonight and this modern day Roy Orbison continued with his stuff, his heroes’ stuff and the songs I’ve come to love, yes much more than the song that put him squarely on the music map. He followed with “You Owe Me Some Kind of Love” and the sad but not really sad “Somebody’s Crying” one of three selections played from 1995’s Forever Blue.
Isaak and his band don’t put on a flashy rock show with lasers, video backdrops or strobes instead just let the live music do all the talking. And, sometimes Isaak too. Much could be said about his wardrobe which even he pokes fun at and when he’s not poking fun at himself, he’s razzing his band mates or chatting it up with the audience. He even hangs out with fans as he stepped off stage for “We’ve Got Tomorrow” and filtered through the biggest crowd ever to attend a concert at the “gym” singing his way through high-fives and selfies. And when one vivacious woman grabbed a-hold, Isaak turned to his band and said, “We’ve got a live one” before crooning his way through the crowd. Just a bit of wit yet to come.
He introduced “Livin’ for Your Lover” off his first album Silvertone by recounting an episode of American Bandstand that he tuned into late and watched as his record was voted the lowest rating available on the Dick Clark hosted show. And he couldn’t resist recalling the time he played on another show with Clark who mimed a question to him during the ending credits so it looked as though the ageless host was engaging with Isaak for the audience on TV when Clark, in fact, said nothing leaving Isaak looking a bit confused.
So it went all night. Isaak the singer, songwriter, guitarist and would-be comedian. He loves playing, enjoys the crowd and especially the moment.
“Wicked Game” came seventh and, wow, does he deliver. And he doesn’t screw around with it either. Whether or not he cares for this song anymore as other musicians sometimes, over the years, develop a love hate relationship with that one particular single in their catalog he certainly gives no sentiments. “Wicked Game” doesn’t come last or open the encore but simply part of the core songs played live and it needs no introduction. Isaak’s vocals nailed every high and low, his guitar work always a dream. He’s got a pretty good lead too in Hershel Yatovitz who plays that solemn melody.
After a string of covers including “Pretty Woman” and “Ring of Fire” the five member band that’s backed Isaak for 33 years moved up front for a more intimate and stripped down set starting with the melancholic “Blue Spanish Sky” one of several played off the hit album Heart Shaped World including the title track, but the mood quickly turned from somber to upbeat with “Two Hearts” off San Francisco Days. Isaak encored with the popular “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing,” that bled into “Bye, Bye Baby” and closed the evening with “Can’t Do a Thing (To Stop Me).” What? No “Reverie”? Unfortunately a classic off 2015’s First Comes The Night didn’t make the cut.
As for the athletic club, quite the experience. No, I didn’t lift weights but a most intriguing and overall pleasing place to see a concert. The show was held basically in the facility’s courtyard featuring a legitimate stage inside a smaller, more “concert in the park” experience but with a big-time musician who tours regularly, hitting much larger venues.
Chris Isaak Setlist in Bend, OR
1. American Boy
2. You Owe Me Some Kind of Love
3. Sombody’s Crying
4. We’ve Got Tomorrow
5. Big Wide Wonderful World
6. Heart Shaped World
7. Wicked Game
8. Go Walking Down There
9. Pretty Woman
10. Ring of Fire
11. Blue Spanish Sky
12. Two Hearts
13. Livin’ For Your Lover
14. Let Me Down Easy
15. Baby What You Want Me To Do
16. Only Fools Rush In
17. You Don’t Cry Like I Do
18. Don’t Make Me Dream About You
19. Blue Hotel
20. San Francisco Days
22. Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing/Bye Bye Baby
23. Can’t Do a Thing (To Stop Me)