“Ladies and gentlemen, you are in for some real semi-professional entertainment this evening,” remarked Chris Isaak early into an immensely fun and musically solid performance last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
With that, the veteran West Coast singer and song stylist strolled into the audience to shake a few hands, sit on a few laps and sing the summery ‘60s-flavored nugget We’ve Got Tomorrow. As semi-pro moments go, it was quite something.
As he did at the Singletary two years ago, Isaak called upon the spirits of pop inspirations past, the drive of a resourceful support quintet, a stage persona draped in glammed up cool and a sense of wit that signaled a very open love of performing.
While Isaak’s music has long maintained a pronounced retro cast in both design and delivery, nothing in last night’s performance felt like a museum piece. The show-opening American Boy operated as a sleek pop rumble, San Francisco Days abounded with spring-like lyricism and the more overtly sensual Dancin’ worked as a modest groove meditation with its title serving as a mantra of sorts.
But the show was also full of simple mood pieces that utilized the retro accents like spices. A beautiful example came early into the program via the 1986 Isaak gem Blue Hotel. It opened with noir-flavored ambience (much in the same way the signature hit Wicked Game did later in the program) before stretching out into acres of fuzzy twang supplied by guitarist Hershel Yatovitz.
Isaak addressed the rootsier side of his pop and rock heritage directly with a set-ending segment of vintage Memphis-style covers from his 2011 album Beyond the Sun. While he obviously reveled in the clean, elemental drive of Dixie Fried and Live It Up, the performance was more satisfying when it embraced the expert ways Isaak fashioned such references into his own music. Case in point: the sly, Slim Harpo blues groove that bolstered Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing.
Lexington’s own roots troupe, Coralee and the Townies, opened with a potent 30 minute set of vintage flavored honky tonk fortified with rockbilly-esque guitar harmonies, a vivid country-colored vocal charge and, near its conclusion, an unexpected but complimentary reggae groove. It all made for a very satisfying prelude to this stylish retro-roots soiree.