Chris Isaak is the anti-Miley Cyrus, a role he wears like one of his shiny, spangled suits.
Isaak, a road warrior who played Denver Friday night, represents everything Cyrus isn’t. He’s a consummate pro relying on singing prowess, polished stage play and a palpable respect for his audience.
The singer reinforced the contrast when he summoned Cyrus’ name during an audience participation segment of his Aug. 30 concert at Denver Botanic Gardens. At 57, Isaak can laugh off competition from the likes of Cyrus. He probably can’t imagine she’ll still be singing for her supper past 30, let alone well into middle age.
Isaak flirted with mainstream fame in the 1990s when the sultry Wicked Game catapulted him to music’s A-list. Rather than cling to the charts by any means necessary, he just went back to the studio–and the road–to create more hard to pigeonhole rock.
He subsequently starred in a cult Showtime comedy and made some film cameos but never strayed from his sonic roots–Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. Isaak’s falsetto, as creamy as advertised throughout the night, renders him as more than just a retro mainstay.
Dressed in a baby blue suit festooned with spangles, Isaak tore through his repertoire along with an extended tribute to Sun Studio stars of yore. His rapport with his regular touring band, an older group of musicians who play with the vigor of teens, gave the night the glow of a reunion project.
Isaak dashed into the sold-out crowd three songs into the set and mixed in plenty of gags. The jokes felt canned but he delivered each with elan. A showman does no less.
His constant crowd compliments rang more hollow, especially when he kept vowing to play all night but bid them goodbye after a tight, and traditional, two hours. The night’s set included sterling takes on One Day, Speak of the Devil, Two Hearts, San Francisco Days andBaby Did a Bad, Bad Thing, the latter stripped of its menace.
The concert’s Sun Studio segment, featuring tight covers of Ring of Fire and Pretty Woman, showed Isaaks’s creative limitations. Sure, the songs sounded note perfect, but a little innovation or ingenuity might have transformed them into something transcendent.
Far better was Great Balls of Fire, which let pianist Scott Plunkett serve up his own tribute to rock rascal Jerry Lee Lewis. Isaak repeatedly shared the spotlight with Punkett and the other members of the band, moments that burnished the sense that the singer cares as much about his peers as he does the crowd.
Isaak heads to Texas this week as part of his 2013 tour.