All-‘American Boy’ Isaak still golden

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 1, 2002

If you were to believe the songs Chris Isaak sings, he is one unlucky son of a gun when it comes to love. “Wicked Game” is about a tortured love affair.

He wrote “Forever Blue” after his fiancee broke up with him. And in his latest single, “Let Me Down Easy,” Isaak pleads with his latest lover to go easy with his heart.

But it doesn’t matter if you buy any of this as fact, because the good-looking San Francisco-based singer is so convincing you want to believe his li’l old heart has been stomped on, just like the rest of ours.

At his 90-minute concert Saturday night, Isaak did an admirable job of hand-picking songs from all eight of his studio albums, including his latest, “Always Got Tonight.” Unlike many artists who have to force-feed their newer songs to the audience, Isaak unobtrusively interspersed his latest throughout the set list. If his newer material isn’t as evocative as the heartbreakingly moody songs on his first three albums, that’s OK, because he is all about the live experience, which is three parts music and one part comedy.

The guy is funny, whether he’s telling a star-struck high school girl who made it onstage to put down her magazines and dance with him or he’s teasing his band, Silvertone, about their exploits offstage. The audience wasn’t spared from his good-natured skewering, either. At one point, he asked everyone who was in a committed relationship to raise their hands.

“Good, we’ll make sure not to hit on you after the show,” he said.

It’s fitting he kicked his set off with “American Boy,” the theme song to his Showtime comedy series “The Chris Isaak Show.” The jangly guitars and 1950s spirit are a throwback to the days of Ricky Nelson, ice cream malts at the drugstore and bobby socks. With his slicked back pompadour and fuchsia suit, Isaak is a throwback to the days when performers took a shower, shined their shoes and got dressed up before walking on stage. They may play dirty off stage, but on, they were golden boys.

Isaak has never needed a lot of extras to make his shows memorable. That liquid voice and wicked sense of humor do more for him than any choreography or on-stage explosion could. But that’s not to say there wasn’t some circus on this tour, which in many ways is his most ambitious. There’s smoke, confetti and even the return of his infamous glitter-ball suit–a deliciously tacky mirror concoction even Cher would covet.

A part of me misses the stark simplicity of his early shows at venues such as the old Cabaret Metro. There, on a stage barren of any decoration other than tiki dolls strung up like Christmas lights, he’d sing “Dancin’ ” and “Blue Hotel,” two gorgeous songs long since excised from his set.

But then again, that was a simpler time for the All-American boy who now is a young-looking 46-year-old man.

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