Chris Isaak knows how to throw one mean holiday extravaganza.
Seriously--just look at that jacket he's wearing, part of a stylish Christmas-themed Nudie suit Isaak sported at his excellent Kingsbury Hall throwdown Wednesday night. As Isaak noted, though--in the first of many between-song asides after he and his crack band opened the show with "American Boy" and "Blue Hotel"--"We're going to do some Christmas songs, but it's going to be a rock 'n' roll show."
That it was, led by a consummate frontman in Isaak, and aided greatly by his longtime band of sidemen/comic foils. Even the Christmas tunes took on a rock vibe, starting with his version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" early in the show. Throughout the night, Isaak would drop a holiday tune into the set here and there, never letting the energy slow or the carols to dominate too much.
That proved a solid strategy, because Isaak's own tunes, and his well-chosen covers, deserve the spotlight almost as much as Isaak's stunning suit. "Want Your Love" and "San Francisco Days" were both early highlights of the show, and made for a fine segue into a mini-set of holiday originals like "Washington Square" and "Christmas on TV," and covers of an Elvis-style "Blue Christmas" and the gospel-tinged "Last Month of the Year."
Besides his sense of humor, Isaak's calling card is a voice that is incredibly strong whether he's crooning ala Roy Orbison or growling like The King. "Somebody's Crying" and "Wicked Game" both showcased his pipes well.
The second half of the show was dominated by an excursion into Isaak's 2011 Sun Records tribute album, Beyond The Sun. The stage set turned into a replica of the tiny Memphis studio where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis all got their starts in music, and Isaak and his band did killer takes of songs like Cash's "Ring of Fire," Carl Perkins' "Dixie Fried" and Elvis's "It's Now or Never" and "Can't Help Falling in Love."
Throughout the show, Isaak's band was incredibly tight, something that comes when you play with the same guys for 27 years, as Isaak noted. Guitarist Hershel Yatovitz joined Isaak in making excursions off the stage and into the audience. Bass player Rowland Salley was a hyperactive presence all night, and drummer Kenny Dale Johnson provided rock-solid beats, harmony vocals and one-liners--whatever Isaak and the songs needed.
For the encore, Isaak broke out his mirrorball suit for songs including a fine cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." It was a perfect capper on a damn near perfect night of entertainment. Between the music, the comedy and the cool stage set, Isaak delivered the kind of holiday show you want to be an annual part of your Christmas season.
The fact this is probably the only time Salt Lake City will get the Isaak holiday treatment made the night even more memorable.