The suit was truly so much shinier in the flesh. (Image: Gabi Lardies)
The suit was truly so much shinier in the flesh. (Image: Gabi Lardies)

Pop CultureApril 26, 2024

‘A hell of a lot of fun’: Our reviews of Chris Isaak’s dazzling Auckland show

The suit was truly so much shinier in the flesh. (Image: Gabi Lardies)
The suit was truly so much shinier in the flesh. (Image: Gabi Lardies)

The ‘Wicked Game’ heartthrob is in his late 60s now. That didn’t stop him putting on a lively, goofy and very sparkly show.

Apart from ‘Wicked Game’, which graces a sultry playlist of mine simply called 💋, my last sustained Chris Isaak listening session took place when I was about 11 or 12. I was on holiday in Ahipara with my dad and little sister, and we had Isaak’s 1995 album Forever Blue on repeat. My sister, who was seven or eight, would don my dad’s cowboy hat and do a full-throated, hip-swinging rendition of ‘Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing’ (hilarious and adorable). I would skulk off to the beach with a Discman and play ‘Somebody’s Crying’ on repeat, sweeping myself up in a wave of romantic pathos well beyond the realm of my preteen experience. 

All of which is to say, Chris Isaak is my dad’s music. But there’s something in there for the kids, too.

This seemed to be reflected in the audience at the final show of Chris Isaak’s tour down under on Wednesday night: looking down from the circle in the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, a sea of silver hair was peppered with hints of the odd fan under 40 (including yours truly). Isaak and his longtime band started their set with gusto, strolling onto the stage and launching into ‘American Boy’ and then, happily for me, ‘Somebody’s Crying’. Isaak wore a sparkly suit and made goofy, self-deprecating jokes between songs: “Anyone can go out and buy a suit like this. When I was up fixing roofs when I was younger, the guys would say, ‘What’s with the suit, Chris?’”

Chris Isaak is a consummate entertainer. He’s a pitch-perfect singer and a surprisingly agile dancer (at one point he leapt into the air and out the corner of my eye I saw my friend googling, “How old is Chris Isaak?”). He’s a comedian, an actor, a real showman. He also understands his audience perfectly, and what he means to them. Isaak is a 90s heartthrob, so he singles out women in the audience and croons to them directly, but he’s self-aware enough to do it with tongue firmly in cheek (“I’m heavier than I look,” he says as he perches himself on the knee of a swooning, middle-aged fan.) I was surprised by how approachable he was – literally: near the end of the encore, for which he donned an even sparklier suit, he extended an open invitation for fans to come up on stage and dance, and a great, giggling huddle of them did.

It was all so much fun. A great show. / Madeleine Holden

Chris Isaak performing at the Kiri Te Kawana Theatre, 24 April 2024. (Photo: Gabi Lardies).
Chris Isaak’s voice is still excellent after all these years (Photo: Gabi Lardies)

Short and sweet

Halfway through his set, Chris Isaak turned into a mirrored disco ball. For about an hour he’d been performing in a bright blue, embroidered and bejewelled suit, and now it was time for the somewhat stiff but oh-so-shiny metal panels. He’d played ‘Wicked Game’ ages ago, the sixth song of the night. In comparison, his other songs seemed chirpy. He leaned deeper into his American boy-next-door persona, pointing to a pretty woman in the audience, then curling his finger to the stage. The finger swept across the audience, finding another, and another, to beckon. Soon there were about 20 fans – old, young, barefoot or wearing heels – dancing on stage. They were stoked. And there he was, a wholesome rockstar playing the handsome heartbreaker. 

This un-jaded, Americana persona took the stage most of the night, cracking self-deprecating jokes, dancing in sync with his bandmates and projecting that booming, melodic voice (intact, even after all these years). The rest of the band weren’t glitzed up like Isaak – they wore black suits that faded them into the background, even though they were totally rocking out. Such is the life of talented musicians who aren’t lead singers, I guess. Having no musical talent, I somehow related to them. Still, it’s a fun performance, which feels a little like a time capsule. 

Dotted here and there were moments when the persona retreated, the lights chilled out, and Isaak became just a man with a guitar, reminding me of that fragile human endeavour of feeling. He told us life is short, and you have to do what makes you happy. The couple in front of me pashed. I suspended my cynicism, and felt about as small as a rhinestone on his pants, but not in a bad way. Short and sweet, I thought. / Gabi Lardies

Chris Isaak and lead guitarist Hershel Yatovitz performing at the Kiri Te Kawana Theatre, 24 April 2024. (Photo: Gabi Lardies).
Chris Isaak and lead guitarist Hershel Yatovitz had great chemistry (Photo: Gabi Lardies)

Beamed out of 1950s America

I know exactly two Chris Isaak songs, probably the same two you know – ‘Wicked Game’ and ‘Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing’. The amount I love ‘Wicked Game’ was enough on its own for me to jump at the chance to see him play live. I thought, mostly based on that one song, that Chris was a kind of soulful, new-age guitar guy. I realised I was really wrong about that the moment he walked on stage in a vibrant blue suit studded with rhinestones. He turned out to be an exquisitely old-fashioned country entertainer, a performer who felt beamed out of 1950s America, doing that, “Aw shucks, I’m just a simple guy” thing and making everyone laugh with his James Brown impression.

The crowd was loving it. “I’d take umbrage,” he said during some early stage banter, “but I don’t know what umbrage means.” That sort of thing, plus singing songs about women who did him bad and broke his heart and were always crying and all the while the rhinestones on his suit were sparkling in the light. It was a hell of a lot of fun. / Tess Nichol

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