Chris Isaak’s Christmas Show – A Jolly Time Was Had By All

Chris Isaak has been lighting up concert stages for many decades. I recall fondly his LA debut in the early 1980s at the Roxy on Sunset, replete with tiki lights adorning the stage. He is still able to deliver the same blend of excellent musicianship with a sterling between song patter that is unattained by anyone.

Isaak has released a long series of albums, that weave many of his influences while still adding his own mark. On stage, these influences are even more evident. The tasty mix of Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly are worthy. Although Isaak assayed songs by a few of these artists (including Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper”), Isaak never stooped to cloying mimicry.

Instead, Isaak made the sound all his own. He opened the night with “All American Boy,” the theme song to his excellent (and criminally unavailable) TV show, and as usual tore through another pair of songs before stopping with the first installment of his humorous between song patter.

While mostly self-deprecating and appreciative of his audience, Isaak kept us smiling whether he was singing or bantering. Unlike a few prior Christmas visits to The Belly Up, this time Isaak sprinkled many holiday tunes into his repertoire. He did a great introduction to his sad sack “Christmas on TV.” After the Hawaiian holiday tune “Mele Kalikimaka” Isaak confessed it made him want to go surfing and eat poi. Invariably, he did a superb version of “Wicked Game,” with the same liquid and seductive guitar lines.

Isaak welcoming my daughter and her date to their first visit to The Belly Up and their first Chris Isaak show.

At about the halfway point, the band moved to the front of the stage for an essentially unplugged set. From the beginning of his career, Isaak has relied on the superb engine room of Rowland Salley (bass) and Kenney Dale Johnson (drums). The entire band is well-oiled, able to pivot at Isaak’s direction.

Isaak seems to have hit a plateau. It is a very lofty plateau, but long-time fans like me want more success for him. That of course, comes at the risk that he won’t return next year to the warm intimacy of The Belly Up.

(photos by Brad Auerbach)


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.