The last day of this year’s PNE Summer Concert Series shows hosted someone who is no stranger to Vancouver, or the PNE. Chris Isaak and his band, Silvertone, crooned his way through what was jokingly dubbed by the MC as the Fall Concert Series show, as a light rain fell on the crowd gathered to watch and listen. The rain increased as the show went on, and some scattered umbrellas went up across the crowd, but by the time the set ended an hour and a half after it begin, the rains had cleared off again completely. Isaak’s current tour is to promote his latest album – First Comes The Night – which was released late in 2015, and is his first album of original material in 6 years. He had in the meantime released an album of Sun Records classics from some of his biggest musical influences, which also happen to be some of the artists he is most often compared to. They don’t make a lot of musicians like this anymore – Isaak is cream of the crop these days.
To boot, he is a confident showman, disguised as a somewhat self-deprecating ne’er-do-well. He is always outfitted in a colourful, sparkling embroidered suit of some kind, and uses said suit as a constant source of ridicule – even he realizes the absurdity of that showmanship. He literally glitters under the stage lights, even moreso when he disappears near the end of the set for his costume change into the ‘mirrorball suit.’ This is nothing more than likely a simple black suit, covered in small, rectangular mirrors that make him brighter than your average star. I assume the suit must be heavy, hot and uncomfortable as he removes the jacket portion of this magnificent creation after just a song.
On stage with him, his longtime band, Silvertone. They include keyboard player Scotty Plunkett (who does a roarin’ impression of Jerry Lee Lewis, smoking piano and foot playing included, and who is the subject of a spate of booze jokes by Isaak throughout the show, not to mention stating he is getting betrothed in two weeks but hasn’t found the girl yet), drummer Kenney Dale Johnson (the man in the glass box), bassist Rowland ‘Roly’ Salley (referred to as a ‘real lonely guy’ when Isaak was urging girls to get on stage and dance with him. “That might be the only love he ever gets!”), and fellow guitar player Herschel Yatovitz (who was largely free of Isaak’s quips tonight). A percussionist appeared from time to time – I assume this is Rafael Padilla, who has also been with Silvertone for ages, but from where I was positioned, it was hard to tell for certain.
A few songs in, Isaak left the stage to wander around the audience, really literally moving right into the rows and getting up close and personal. He grabbed a woman up from her seat and held her in an embrace she definitely seemed to be enjoying, while he talked about feeling the magic in the moment. “Did you feel it?,” he asked her. She nodded, gripping him tightly and looking a bit faint. Certainly the man has not been short-shifted in the looks department. At 60 years old, an age it is difficult to believe, with a highly-hairsprayed coif of rockabilly hair, a fit boxer’s body that he clearly takes care of, and sparkling baby blues, he can definitely make the girls weak in the knees. Despite this, he seems to have been met with some poor luck in the love department over the years, and while he has evidently had relationships with a number of stunning women, has never found one to settle down with. I recall reading an interview once where he said he never wanted to marry unless he had the kind of love his parents had – one in a million. This poor luck is what much of his songwriting centres on and somehow makes him more relatable than he might be otherwise.
Isaak has also had a rollercoaster of success through the years, in music and in acting (see him these days on Australia’s version of The X-Factor for some reason), and he does touch on this during his chatter between songs. He mentioned feeling at home here in Vancouver – his little-known, hilarious, well-done, sort-of-true TV show in the early naughties was filmed here and I understand he had a permanent home in the Vancouver area. He also was thankful for people coming out and supporting music, otherwise he is, “Just wandering around town in this suit with nothing to do.” He continued to poke fun at his outfit. “You know when you see a suit like this, you are in for an evening of semi-professional entertainment. I promise you, we will not go below state fair quality tonight. At times, we might even reach Beyonce quality.” The easygoing rapport he has with his band after so many years is evident. While some of the banter is recycled from previous shows – it is so because it works! Isaak went into a big tale about how he still gets nervous after so many shows and he had combed his hair about 15 times, and was just about to get started on the 16th when one of his bandmates came up to him and said something so simple, so supportive. “He just said, ‘Chris, you’re the man.’ And he said it in Spanish, and it was….” This was interrupted by Johnson, who informed Isaak that what was said actually means ‘wash your hands.’ Isaak stammered something about the importance of cleanliness before moving to the next song.
It wouldn’t be a Chris Isaak show if he didn’t pay homage to some of those Sun Records musicians, in the form of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and “Only the Lonely” and Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” At various points, the audience was up on their feet, boogying down to the upbeat numbers, but mostly seated for the slower ones. Certainly his biggest hit of all time, doubling as his breakthrough hit, which was still quite early in his career, is “Wicked Game.” All over the place, people melted into the floor… girls swooned, their boyfriends/husbands taking advantage of the mushy atmosphere. The rain really started up during this tune, which seemed a bit appropriate somehow considering the saucy and famous video of Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen, damp and frolicking on a beach. Immediately, a million billion cel phones went up to record the tune. Now the PNE doesn’t exactly restrict cameras or recording devices, and really, you can’t these days with everyone’s smartphones, but Isaak exists to be in front of peoples’ cameras. I remember one of his other shows where he noticed people in the audience shooting with little cameras, and he stopped and said, “I don’t know what they told you at this venue about taking pictures….” Everyone paused, sure he was about to admonish them. He continued… “But I didn’t wear this suit to NOT have my photo taken, so you all take as many as you want.”
More hilarity as a new tune came out that featured an accordion. “You go to Germany, Italy, Vancouver, you gotta bring an accordion. You are accordion people. Folks might say, okay, rock n roll show, is there booze, wild women…. Yea yea yea, but is there an accordion? That’s the first question.” Someone in the audience shouted “Do something awesome!” Isaak repeated the question back and then said, “I will attempt to throw a boat over a hedge… well, that would be awesome.” Not bad for being on the spot. Later, before what he referred to as a “romantic song” (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”), he waxed poetic about being able to look at the crowd, and see the crowd all… looking back at him. “Well, I didn’t buy this suit to be shy. I used to do roofing work and I still had a suit like this. I always wanted to be a performer…. Anyhow. If you have ever had feelings for the person you’re with, heads up, this is your chance to make a move. You might be out there thinking, ‘well, that’s all well and good for you and your sparklepants, Chris, but what about me? I’m here alone.’ And to you I say, this might be a good opportunity to think about why you’re here alone.”
Anyways, I could go on, but with Chris Isaak, you get a show that is not only polished and engaging musically, but is also entertaining and funny. The man truly knows how to get a crowd rapt. His humour seems unexpected when one thinks of his music style, but he really does seem like a class act, a talented guy, and a quick, wry wit.