The American singer/musician and occasional actor/TV personality was over in the UK to promote his latest album Beyond The Sun, which is Isaak’s renditions of some of the old time rock and roll greats from the Sun Records rooster, the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. The heart full of soul man brought with him an assortment of well established musicians, Rowland Salley (bass), Kenney Dale Johnson (drums), Hershel Yatovitz (guitar), Scott Plunkett (piano) and Rafael Padilla (percussion). Mr Isaak is a man who appears to spend his entire life on the road touring and aren’t we lucky that he decided to drop by Manchester on his European round up, last time was in 2007. It’s a gig I’ve anxiously been awaiting, even buying a ticket, but the photo pass was a definite bonus, and the only ‘Official’ photographer at the venue.
Paul Freeman, warmed up the almost sold out auditorium playing a solo acoustic set, for half an hour prior to the mainman, despite having problems with the sound, and in which he ended up just jumping down amongst the seated auditorium and doing it without amplification. He managed to hold it altogether pretty well, without any petulant behaviour, walking off or sulking, even joking and chatting about his minor disaster, and borrowing Chris' guitar. Conversing with the crowd, telling us he'd been in a supergroup for a day with Winwood, weller and others, he made light of what must have been an embarrassing situation on the opening of a show. Sound was then resumed and he continued to enthral the crowd for a short time, ending with "a song about dying"!
Chris Isaak appeared on stage at 9pm with his trademark quiff, looking all glamorous and extremely fit and healthy for his 50 + years, sporting a black sequin spangled suit which only he could carry off, the epitome of cool stamped all over him. He headed straight into the rockabilly/country sounds of 'American Boy', "'I'm the original American boy
Love you baby, with all my heart "....followed by 'Pretty Girls', then the stagelights dimmed and changed to blue for the theme of his classic 'Blue Hotel'. My cue to be seated, off I trotted to sit and enjoy the show. Next song up 'We Got Tomorrow' saw Chris charging off the stage, racing through the stalls and right up to the balcony on the 2nd floor, where he proceeded to serenade a few lucky woman in his path, when he got back slightly out of puff he continued the show with 'Want Your Love;. The first half of the set consisted of the old favourites, and had us all singing along, like crazy lovesick fools. The highlight was of course the famous song 'Wicked Game' this was his key to be sultry and tender whispering words of love, but lets not forget the band of musicians who drive the crooner throughout, his performance they are accomplished and polished, with not a bum note between them....not that I noticed! We had humour along the journey, and a few piss takes of the band members, he also regaled a couple of stories about his life and music.
The second half of the set he introduced 'Beyond The Sun' album tracks, launching into Johnny Cash's 'Ring Of Fire' a rousing heartwarming tune, had a couple of people up on their feet a dancin, then everyone swooning when he sang Elvis's numbers 'Its Now Or Never' and 'Can't Help Falling In Love', the silence while he held court and romanced everyone in his path was astounding. Encouraging everyone who had come with a committed partner to get close, and "those who had come alone, put your hands up....have you come to meet someone - your the kind of woman I want to meet"! Whilst most artists shun cameras and video Chris thrived on the attention, challenging everyone to get there cameras, and phone and take videos and photographs, "hey I haven't worn this suit for nothing"... he says wearing a completely mirrored suit and glowing under the lights, now with a backdrop of a 50's pin up. He tore into those old rock n roll numbers, although pretty restrained, it would have been great in a standing only venue, where people could have danced and gone a bit wild. It kind of felt a bit too civilised and tame, from a seated position. I think the wildest the show got was during 'Great Balls Of Fire' when the smoke appeared from the piano and bellowed out.... not real of course but it had the desired effect. Of course who could forget the "dance of love", with some corny synchronised dance moves, and the two young women pulled up on-stage during the bad ass guitar twangs of 'Baby Did A Bad Thing' no doubt they won't forget their little part of the show dancing.... "I wanna get someone up to dance with my bass player" he bellows as they are hand picked by Chris from the audience.
What we had witnessed was a professionally delivered and flawless show, almost Las Vegas cabaret, thoroughly entertaining and worthy of the £30 ticket. When you consider the repetitiveness of performing night after night, what he says doesn't come across as wooden or staged, it flows naturally as if its the first time your hearing it. He's also got a great voice, very charismatic and all delivered with great humour. A better singer of those old rock and roll numbers you will never find. When he comes around again, get yourself a ticket, he might not be this years big thing, but he is one of the classic rock and roll singers and an all round entertainer. I for one will be back for more, next time I am planning a stage invasion!
Review & photos by Melanie Smith www,mudkissphotography.co.uk