As Chris Isaak pulled his
'64 Chevy Nova up to the House of Blues for a sold-out show on Sunday -- the
first of a three-night stand in what's becoming an annual event -- the
long-running retro-rock heartthrob had no new product to sell.
The San Francisco singer and songwriter hasn't released a new album since
"Always Got Tonight" in 2002. His self-titled cable "surreality show" has
ended after three dry and witty seasons. And while there's a new disc in the
can, it's a holiday record, and despite a short but cool snippet of "Blue
Christmas," it was hard to muster much enthusiasm for that in July.
This, then, was simply Isaak returning to what he does best: melting
hearts in live performance with his time-capsule brand of twangy,
reverb-drenched late '50s/early '60s rock 'n' roll, cracking wise and
gleefully goofing with his accomplished band, much to the delight of his
reverent fans--many of them, it must be noted, adoring women displaying the
sort of fixated gazes generally not seen outside of the Admiral Theatre.
CHRIS ISAAK, SOPHIE B. HAWKINS
When: 9 tonight
Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
Call: (312) 923-2000
Resplendent in a hot pink suit adorned with yellow flames, Isaak led his
five backing musicians through a career-spanning set that included all of
the predictable gems -- "Wicked Game" may have been ruined by overexposure
on VH1, but it's hard to get enough of "Heart Shaped World," "Speak of the
Devil" or "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" -- as well as treats like a heartfelt
cover of Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely."
Isaak traded places with his powerful but sensitive drummer Kenny Dale
Johnson to bash through a spirited version of "California Sun," brought out
the stools for an acoustic mini-set a la "The Baja Sessions" (a welcome
gift, though the usually good-humored star seemed peeved when some of his
alleged fans in the VIP boxes chattered through it) and joked and flirted
with that trademark charm, deadpan humor and million-watt smirk.
"How many of you are alone and desperate and drinking?" he asked. "You're
my favorite kind of fan; the rest of you don't even bother talking to me
after the show!"
Judging by the enthusiastic response from the female portion of the
crowd, statements about Isaak's failings as a boyfriend -- such as those by
comedian Margaret Cho, one of several celebrated exes -- haven't done much
to dissuade his arduous suitors. It wasn't long after that when the first
piece of underwear landed onstage.
Opening for Isaak was the New York singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins,
who released her fourth album, "Wilderness," last spring.
Though she has scored impressive hits with "Damn, I Wish I Was Your
Lover" and "As I Lay Me Down" -- both of which featured in a short but sweet
seven-song set -- Hawkins remains underappreciated for the sophistication of
her blues-tinged songwriting, the robust soulfulness of her vocals and the
sheer exuberance of her performances.
Backed by a keyboardist and a drummer, the set included a rollicking
stint with Hawkins on djembe -- she started her career as a percussionist
for Bryan Ferry -- and built to a climax with her stripping to her tank-top
and using her blue-jean shirt as a veil during a sexy mock-striptease.
Some tickets remain for Isaak's final show tonight at the House of Blues.
Hawkins returns to the Chicago area with the Coors at 8 p.m. Aug. 19 at the
Ravinia Festival, 400 Iris Lane in Highland Park, for $40 pavilion and $15
lawn. Call (847) 266-5100.