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National Beat: Chris Isaak Sparkles in Sparks

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Chris Isaak performing at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks Nevada


By Nick McCabe – Front Row Photo

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Chris Isaak and his band played at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks Saturday (December 28th) to a near sold out Rose Ballroom, and that was no easy accomplishment with at least four other high profile shows in the area that night. The show started at about 9:20 and went for just over 90 minutes with them playing a twenty-five song set from nine of Chris’ albums spanning a period of twenty-six years.

Those are the facts. These are my opinions.

WOW! Chris Isaak is a fantastic entertainer. It’s apparent that his number one goal is to make sure his audience has a good time. I haven’t enjoyed a show like that in a long time. He puts on a show from the second he walks on stage until he exits after the encore. His voice is flawless with an incredible range. From the low baritone of ‘Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” to the high alto of “Wicked Game” he hit all the notes. He writes great tunes, has that matinee idol / Elvis good looks thing going on, and he’s funny. At least twice during the show, as if to say ‘watch this’ he held a high note for what seemed like an eternity without the slightest wavering from pitch. During the first song he was even kind enough to pose for me and give me a smile. Cool! He even poked fun at himself by referring to himself as “a sparkly monkey” up there singing in his powder blue sequenced suit.

Beyond the great singing and playing he interacts with the audience with the ease of a stand up comic. During the intro to the forth song of the night he searched the front part of the audience saying he wanted to find somebody to bring up and play guitar with him, and he chose a young girl of about 10 or 12 years old to come up. He chatted with her a bit and then gave her a guitar to strap on. Then, teaching her a proper rock and roll pose he told her to bend slightly backwards at the waist and turn her head from side to side. When she did, his guitarist Hershel ripped off some guitar licks as if she were playing them. Everybody clapped and cheered, and then he let her keep the guitar which was already autographed.

About now he made his first of two treks out into the audience walking all the way to the back shaking hands and giving high fives while singing. By almost mid way through the show when he played “Wicked Game” he had the audience in the palm of his hand. People were up and dancing and singing along. During “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” he accused some of the girls in the audience of undressing Rowland Salley, his bass player with their eyes. So he invited about ten girls up to dance around him on stage. He managed to pick some lively girls who got into it and had fun with it.

Later in the evening he told a story about feeling privileged to have met some of his heroes (Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison among others) and recording many of their songs at Sun Studios in Memphis - the original location of their recordings. From that album (Beyond The Sun) he played seven classic cuts by Elvis, Johnny, Roy, and Jerry Lee Lewis (see complete set list below). These were some of my favorite songs from the night. His style of singing works great for these songs.

Just when you thought it had to be the climax of the show when he played “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison it’s not! A good artist can take his audience on a journey and ramp it up to the end, and that’s what he did by moving on to a spirited classic rock sounding original called “Live it up”, and then they brought it to the end (pre-encore end) with “Great Balls of Fire” with thick plumes of smoke coming from the piano. When they left the stage the crowd was fanatical about getting them to come back out, which you knew they were going to do anyway. They did return to the stage for a two song encore playing the 1987 original, “Blue Hotel” and finishing up with “Big Wide Wonderful World” off of the 2009 album, Mr. Lucky.

All in all it was a really fun evening. I’ve seen him about 4 or 5 times and it’s always a good time. The only thing that puzzles me is, he and I grew up about an hour apart – he graduated from high school one year after me, and I look like I could be his grandfather! What the heck is that all about?

If you’re interested here’s the set list (it was very difficult to compose from scraps of lyrics I wrote down during the show) and band roster.

Set List
Best I Ever Had – 2009
Speak Of The Devil – 2009
Two Hearts – 1993
We’ve Got Tomorrow – 2009
I Want Your Love – 1993
San Francisco Days – 1993
You Don’t Cry Like I Do – 2009
Cheaters Town – 2009
Let Me Down Easy – 2002
Somebody’s Crying – 1995
Wicked Game – 1989
Go Walking Down There – 1995
Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing – 1995
Only The Lonely – 1996
Ring Of Fire – 2011
Can’t Help Falling In Love – 2011
Graduation Day – 1995
Trying To Get To You – 2011
Dancin’ – 1996
It’s Now Or Never – 2011
Oh, Pretty Woman – 2011
Live It Up – 2011
Great Balls Of Fire – 2011

The Boys in The Band
Chris Isaak – Guitar, Vocals, Good Looks
Hershel Yatovitz – Guitar, Vocals
Rowland Salley – Bass, Vocals
Kenny Dale Johnson – Drums, Vocals
Scott Padilla – Keyboards, Vocals
Raphael Padilla – Percussion

…and the beat goes on.

Here's a link to a more user friendly photo gallery:

Nick McCabe may be contacted at:


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