Chris Isaak at the State Theatre New Brunswick, NJ, November 5, 2012

It has to be the band uniforms.

That was, for a moment last evening, my reasoning for what is my fairly incongruous love of Chris Isaak and Silvertone. While my tastes are all over the map, Mr. I is more mainstream than a lot of  other folks I love. So I have some figuring out to do.

Uniforms are as plausible an explanation as any. In my youth, all the Motown acts appeared on TV in a uniform. And both BB King‘s and Albert King‘s bands wore them when I saw them in the 70s and 80s.

More likely it’s that Isaak plays classic guitar combo pop in a way that hasn’t been popular in years. There’s no soul-gazing, singer-somgwriter agony. There’s no deep message for the masses. There’s no melding of genres or putting on airs. It’s just 6 guys having a good time playing songs. I think they have internalized Paul Simon’s observation that the most profound rock lyric ever written was “Be Bop a Lula She’s My Baby.”

That doesn’t mean Isaak doesn’t have an act–just that it’s one I buy. The man stands in a rhinestone-studded, powder-blue suit in the middle of his beuniformed bandmates and strums chords. He rarely ventures up the neck like some guitar God. His bass player, Rowland Salley, and his guitar player,Hersel Yatovitz, have chops galore. More importantly they have the restraint to let the songs shine.

Supporting the most recent album, Beyond the Sun, a tribute to the music recorded on the Sun Records label, Isaak and company played a solid 25-song set (that includes the encore, see the set list below) . I’d say of songs old and new but Isaak’s own material is of more recent vintage than the most recently recorded batch of songs.

Covers that don’t strike new ground are often tiresome. Isaak has the voice to pull of all those great classics. Since Jerry Lee Lewis is the last of the wild men still with us, going to a Chris Isaak concert may be the best way to hear these songs performed live.

Among his own songs we got San Francisco DaysSomebody’s Crying, Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing and the almost obligatory Wicked Game. Isaak’s voice is capable of conveying deep heartbreak and it’s never more apparent than in that last named song. He also let bassist Salley sing his own composition, Killing the Blues, which appeared on the great album by Alison Kraus and Robert Plant, Raising Sand.

You either love this rootsy, guitar-based music or you don’t. It never fails to stir my soul. And we all need a little of that because, like the Chris Isaak song says, “This world is only gonna break your heart.”

NE W BRUNSWICK, NJ Nov. 5, 2012

American Boy
Pretty Girls
Blue Hotel
We’ve Got Tomorrow
I Want Your Love
San Francisco Days
I’m Not Waiting
Somebody’s Crying
Wicked Game
Best I Ever Had
Notice the Ring
Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing
Doin’ the Best I Can
Ring of Fire
Dixie Fried
Can’t Help Falling in Love
It’s Now or Never
Killing the bLues
Live It  Up
Miss Pearl
Great Balls Of Fire

Super magic
Oh, Pretty Woman
Big Wide Wonderful
Worked It Out Wrong


3 thoughts on “Chris Isaak at the State Theatre New Brunswick, NJ, November 5, 2012

  1. Lovely essay, Mr. HC. And I thoroughly agree with every word. The punctuation (reverse apostrophes after boldface words? missing spaces after commas?) does leave something to be desired, however.

    Still, it’s hard to fault a well-written review that can not only make you taste the music, it invents a word that needed inventing: beuniformed.

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