Beyond the Sun: Chris Isaak's Epic Moody Theater Taping

Chris Isaak and friends went three hours at the Moody

Chris Isaak dazzles ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 2.13.12
Chris Isaak dazzles ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 2.13.12
photo by Kristy Duff Wallace

Taped for PBS, Chris Isaak’s appearance at the Moody Theater on Monday was so lengthy it probably became a mini-series. With costume changes, a stage reset, and do-overs, the evening stretched past three hours. Except for an easily tired handful of the crowd that departed early, there were no complaints. Isaak demonstrated an enthusiasm that never waned.

Wearing one of his over-spangled Nudie suits, Isaak began with “American Boy,” setting up a first set that covered his quarter-century career. Distinctly American, Isaak borrows heavily from rock & rollers like Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney. While infusing his rockabilly with surf overtones, he’s as latter day Californian as the Blasters or Los Lobos, and at times as twangy as Dwight Yoakam.

Monster hit “Wicked Game” came early in the evening, but a tape glitch required an equally shimmering repeat performance. Mid-set, rockabilly queen and Continental Club favorite Wanda Jackson came out to belt her 1957 hit, “Fujiyama Mama,” a portent of what was to come. The vocal gymnastics and New Wave bop of Isaak's “Dancin’” were a high point before the set change.

With a new backdrop simulating Sun Studios, Isaak concentrated on his latest album, Beyond the Sun, a collection of songs that were his childhood favorites – tunes associated with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others recorded or influenced by Sam Phillips at his famed Memphis recording studio. Dedicated to hillbilly sounds rather than the pop sheen of his own work, Isaak’s band Silvertone powered its way through mega-hits like “Ring of Fire,” while showing due restraint on tunes like the glistening “How’s the World Treating You.”

Wanda Jackson appeared again for a terrific duet on “Trying to Remember to Forget,” then proceeded to proudly recollect her relationship with Presley.

“He was a great kisser,” she said with a sly smile.

A shout-out to Carl Perkins along with a version of “Great Balls of Fire“ that was the definition of rollicking sent everyone home, worn out and beaming. Incredibly, it seemed that Chris Isaak was the only one who had just begun to sweat.

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