Some artists play their music in concert just like you hear it on the recordings. Others change the songs to include something unique and memorable, such as longer solos and changes in the words or the rhythms. And I can appreciate those musicians and enjoy their shows, but I especially look for “entertainers” when I’m considering paying for a ticket. I love the artists that talk to the audience and bring that added dimension to their live shows beyond simply playing their songs. Lyle Lovett has been at the top of my list as that kind of performer, and I have seen him a dozen or more times over the last 30 years.
Now, I’m happy to add Chris Isaak to my Hall of Fame list for entertainers. I had heard great things about his musicianship and entertainment value, and I was glad to grab tickets to his show at Austin’s Paramount Theatre in September. The Paramount Theatre is a lovely old vaudeville and movie theatre that has transformed over the years to be a great venue for music as well. No video screens, no mosh pit at the front, and plenty of ushers to shush people!
While there are no pyrotechnics in a Chris Isaak show, his look is flashy enough to substitute. That night he donned a slick black suit with silver embroidery that would make Gram Parsons jealous. But even it was paled next to his encore suit. When he returned to the stage after a demanding ovation from the audience, he was wearing his “mirror ball” suit that reportedly weighs 35 pounds and is, just like it sounds, covered in mirrors, catching every light on the stage and reflecting it around the theatre.
But the Chris Isaak movie matinee idol good looks and the eye-catching suits and boots still take a backseat to the musical group that is Silvertone, the backing band Isaak has fronted for over 30 years. Friends from the beginning of their musical journey, drummer Kenney Dale Johnson, bassist Rowland Salley, and pianist Scott Plunkett, were joined by more “recent” members, guitarist Hershel Yatovitz and percussionist Rafael Padilla. By “recent,” I mean about 20 years of history in the Chris Isaak band. Silvertone and Chris Isaak are tight and intuitive and, despite having played these songs hundreds of times, they sounded fresh and inspired.
Still, the part of the Chris Isaak show that proved most memorable was his repartee with the audience and his pure entertainment appeal. On the second or third song he came off the stage and worked his way through the audience, scooching from one aisle to another along a row of 15 or so audience members and then up into the balcony so even those folks got a close-up view. He continued to sing through the entire trip. His journey even stopped long enough for a short chat with a glowing 12-year-old, who may not have followed Isaak’s career long but it was obvious he was going to be her favorite from now on.
When the band pulled up stools to take things low key and Chris Isaak broke into an impromptu chorus of “T for Texas,” the old Jimmie Rodgers yodeling song, a woman on the front row discreetly made her way to the outside aisle for a quick break. Isaak stopped mid-sentence and implored, “Please don’t leave, we’ll stop!” Embarrassed or not, she quickly returned to her seat until she could make her escape when the attention was elsewhere.
Chris Isaak and Silvertone put in two solid hours of entertainment and left the audience knowing they got a show that you only get when you see a live performance of a true entertainer.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design