Concert Review: Chris Isaak – Oregon Zoo

The joy of Chris Isaak.

That joy is found under smoky skies with an orange hued half-moon hovering overhead as the modern day 50s man worked through a 24 song set on Saturday night at the Oregon Zoo in front of a sold out crowd.

The smoke laden air from the forest fires raging miles away in Eastern Oregon did little to deter anyone from showing up on a day at least 10 degrees cooler than originally predicted thanks probably to the smoggy filter that really stunted the sun’s rays.

The audience, a bit abbreviated from past year’s sell-outs thanks to the zoo’s construction of a new and much larger elephant enclosure that’s about halfway done but eats into a sizable chunk of the quasi amphitheater for the summer concert series, squished together, in some places pretty tightly, with some dancing throughout and occasionally standing up en masse to their favorites.

The Oregon Zoo Summer Concert series is not the most comfortable place to watch a show and in fact could rise to the level of premier venues if officials carved out an actual setting complete with assigned seating for everyone rather than the general admission lawn for most where people, often latecomers, plop right down in front of you. There isn’t much of a rise giving way to a “stadium style” seating but the sound is fantastic and the backdrop of Forest Park is a sight to behold. But that’s the subject for another article.

Isaak opened with the country rock fused “Best I Ever Had,” the beautifully drippy “Somebody’s Crying” and “Two Hearts” which featured his great falsetto. He toured the audience with “Don’t Leave Me On My Own” and then the first of several covers “Oh Pretty Woman.”

Isaak considers many of rock and roll’s originals like Elvis, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly as his influences and boy does he sounds so much like them. When he ripped into “Great Balls of Fire” it sounded like his song and perhaps it is now, besides who else is going to take on the mantle of all those early greats?

Certainly no one else is as popular as Isaak whose catalogue of original material extends 30 years with a new album arriving sometime in October, his first in four years and first of new material since 2009’s Mr. Lucky. The Elvis inspired, or as he put it the “bad Elvis” inspired “Don’t Break My Heart” provided a hint of what’s to come (think Hawaiian Elvis)as did the Orbison influenced “Perfect Lover” which Isaak said, perhaps in gest, featured a bit of Abba.

He’s quite the character too often poking fun at his bandmates especially piano player Scottie Plunkett who suffered the brunt of it, but he threw it right back in the band leader’s face especially when Isaak started began playing “5:15” during the encore. Plunkett suddenly stopped about 10 seconds in and asked to play something more up tempo.

Isaak’s music isn’t fraught with hard-charging rock chords, blistering solos or heart pounding drums, but he’s definitely got a hard rock side to him as he and guitarist Hershel Yatovitz ended “Go Walking On Down There” with a solid arena rock jam.

No Chris Isaak show is complete without “Wicked Game” a masterpiece of song writing that exploded his career 25 years ago. And for good reason. Needing no introduction, those haunting chords casually broke through the haze filled air right after “San Francisco Days” much to the delight of the crowd. Perfectly executed with Isaak, now just a year removed from 60 if you can believe that, holding on to that amazing ending note just as he did so many years ago.

Isaak balanced the set out well bouncing from his slower ballads to the more rock oriented fare. Calling his music “easy listening” feels more of a disservice considering what is traditionally known as “Easy Listening” but in many respects it is exactly that. There’s no need to know any of his songs to enjoy a 100 minute long set, even the ones he covers that ruled the airwaves 50 years ago. If not for nostalgia which many in the crowd certainly appreciate, the fluid melodies, the tight playing and his stage charm make for a perfect evening of live music. Besides, who doesn’t get caught up in the trance so many of his ballads offer.

That’s the joy of Chris Isaak.

Chris Isaak Portland (Oregon Zoo) Setlist:

  1. Best I Ever Had
  2. Somebody’s Crying
  3. Two Hearts
  4. Don’t Leave Me On My Own
  5. Oh Pretty Woman
  6. American Boy
  7. San Francisco Days
  8. Wicked Game
  9. Go Walking On Down There
  10. Don’t Break My Heart
  11. Don’t Make Me Dream About You
  12. Forever Blue
  13. Can’t Help Falling in Love
  14. Great Balls of Fire
  15. Speak of the Devil
  16. Dancin’
  17. Perfect Lover
  18. Blue Hotel
  19. My Happiness
  20. Ring of Fire
  21. Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing
  22. Big Wide Wonderful World
  23. ?
  24. Can’t Do a Thing to Stop Me

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Rush at The Forum – The Final Show

There will never be another Rush.

This much is true.

The trio hailing from Toronto, Canada closed a large chapter of their 40 year + career to a sold out crowd on Saturday at the Forum in Los Angeles. The final concert of the 40th anniversary tour is quite certainly the last of its kind but whether it is indeed their last of all time only the future knows or at least Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart.

It was another stellar evening with Lee in strong command of his vocals along with a very present bass, Lifeson, ever the virtuoso on guitar, in pristine form, and Peart the professor behind the drum kit. They kept it straight, no extra songs, nothing different than what’s already been played since they embarked on the R40 tour on May 8 in Tulsa, OK.

The final show got “Losing It” off Signals. This time Jonathan Dinklage, who played with the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble during the last tour, took violin duties. Who would have thought the violin could rock so hard?

When it was all over the three stood arm-in-arm. A site I’ve never seen before. Peart didn’t bolt off stage, instead he stuck around. Lee’s concluding remarks: “And I do hope we meet again sometime.”

To say it’s time to hang up the guitars and put away the drum sticks is not only unfair but a false premise. Now in their 60s, nary a glitch accompanied the nearly three hour sets and nothing but positive reviews about the live show. Lifeson’s struggles with arthritis, now pretty widely known, he showed no ill effects. Lee reached back and brought to life a vocal range he hadn’t hit since the 70s. And Peart, sure his drum solo got cut in half from past tours, but he still puts on a clinic.

It’s an odd thing to say goodbye. It’s not like they are family. But in many respects they are. To legions of fans this band represents a porthole into their past, the feel good of the present and a lifeline when the future was looking dark. Rush told us we’re the ones who have to shine; but they provided the electricity.

All good things do come to an end or in the case of Rush, all great things. In the chronicles of rock history good luck finding a band so, well, like Rush. Somehow they found each other.

So loved. Respected. Admired. That professionalism. The raw talent. Fully embraced for their music and as people. At least by those who understand what it is all about. Perhaps a debt of gratitude then is owed to the detractors of so many years ago, who by the way, no one remembers. In many respects, it was those people who fought the fire, while feeding the flame.

Rise from the ashes a blaze of everyday glory. Or at least from the Down the Tubes tour.

Wow, didn’t they?

Saying goodbye or at least acknowledging the time has come to get prepared to say goodbye is not easy. Rush means so many things to so many people. Surely it would be easier if Mr. Peart had departed long ago and Alex and Geddy trudged on. Or, Mr. Lifeson went solo or joined another three-piece as Geddy and Neil moved forward with a new lineup. Mr. Lee’s solo album? Let’s face it. Sounded a bit like Rush but in many respects it didn’t. Something was missing. Yes, the singer is always the benchmark of a band. But can you imagine: “Featuring the voice of Rush – Geddy Lee!” Nope. Rush is and always will be GAN.

Saying goodbye means closing the door on my childhood. The preteen years. The teenage years. My 20s. My 30s. Saying goodbye means reminiscing on all those memories takes a whole different perspective.

Like that time I got my dad to take me to Music Plus so I could purchase Signals and Exit…Stage Left. Back then “live” albums were always more expensive. I settled on the studio album and informed my father I wasn’t going to spend the money required for the live version. As we drove away in the car, Signals in hand, my dad insisted on playing whatever he picked up, probably Neil Diamond. Actually, it was Exit…Stage Left.

It’s important to note my dad is not, will not, nor will ever be a Rush fan. And he also doesn’t get my fondness for the group that has been in my life longer than anybody sans my immediate family. He’s really not even into music for that matter.

I also have vivid memories of nearly every album purchase or, in the case of Grace Under Pressure, acquisition. My fifth grade classmate told me he went to a swap meet and they were giving away Rush albums. Huh? One of those was 2112, the other was one I did not have or even one that sounded remotely familiar.

So I told him to bring me the unfamiliar one. The day I arrived home with it my brother was on his way to, what else, Music Plus to buy the new Rush album. You mean Grace Under Pressure? Ha Ha! You see I already had it. Thanks to a guy named Keith. To this day I don’t know what the real story was behind those giveaways.

Sweet memories.

How about a literally midnight hour plan for a 24 hour turnaround trip from Portland, OR to San Jose, CA to catch the Counterparts tour with a friend who wasn’t much of a fan? I convince well. The Rush songs at my wedding. My wife recognizing Rush is not music for morons. The girls in fourth grade who told me about that new band that was better than Rush? Yes, Duran Duran is still together but…

Seeing them at Red Rocks? Check. Would there ever be a better concert than the wind-driven Snakes and Arrows show at the beautiful The Gorge in George, Washington? A sound Memorex could never reproduce. Little did I know, that night would meet its match many years later as I sat third row during the R40 tour. Celebrating my birthday with Rush at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Did that too. I wish I could live it all again.

I could go on. And on. So could any fan. Check that. Authentic fan.

What is it about this band? One concert is never enough. We get amped up at the very hint of time spent in the studio. Any “limited edition” item is an immediate sell-out. Do we have some type of common denominator? Were we all cast outs? Or all Second Borns? Is Rush to our ears akin to how those with a refined palate appreciate certain delicacies? Did my nine years as a trombone player help me appreciate their craft? No one understands the bass cleft!

Maybe it is Authenticity.

If one word could sum up Rush, perhaps it is authenticity. Rush is the equivalent to rock music as “what the players wear” or “on-field apparel” is for fans who wear football or baseball jerseys. What fan buys a replica jersey for half the cost? I want what the players wear! Therefore, I want what the musicians play and the musicians play Rush.

As the songs ticked off on this final night, would this be the last time? That dreamy solo on “The Main Monkey Business.” One of the most complete rock songs in “Distant Early Warning.” The opening to “Far Cry.” That ending to “Jacob’s Ladder.” The beautifully long intro on “Xanadu.”

Just imagine what they’re going through on this trek through the past as the evening comes to a close. This is the last time we play “The Spirit of Radio” together. “Subdivisions” too. “One Little Victory” means so much, will it turn into one more? Should we have played “Fly By Night” or brought out another one of our missing “children” on this, our final night as a band. Even more apropos now then during the Time Machine tour – “Time Stand Still.” But it was left off, maybe because it reminded them and that we must mold a new reality. Our old friends are growing older.

But that’s what we all want. To freeze this moment a little bit longer. And make each impression a little bit stronger.

Rush started off the R40 tour with everyone believing this was the last chance to watch three living rock legends. Though they didn’t actually say it. Then possible future albums were mentioned. Geddy said the band wasn’t breaking up. And touring was still on the table though for sure the large scale multiple city effort was in its last days. Fair enough. We’ll come to you now. Just invite us. Please.

So, perhaps they’ll give that to us. Remain immortal just a little bit longer. Maybe Geddy and Alex will finally give Neil his wish albeit 25 years late. We’ll take a few more albums sans the big tour won’t we? You know what? Two more studio albums (Feedback doesn’t count!) and two more “live” albums gives Rush the most appropriate stopping point. 21-12. Yes, wishful thinking but it would at least hold off the inevitable and provide us a few more years.

Because as long as Rush enters the studio or takes the stage we’re still 10. Or 12 or 21. Or whatever slice of life that so defines the Rush years. It gives us one more opportunity to feel that excitement shiver up and down our spine. Before it’s gone. Forever.

A new album, a new tour even on a small scale means we’re still young, wondering the face of the earth and wondering what our dreams might be worth.

The world could use their beauty, for a while longer. Besides, I’m not ready to say goodbye.

I hope they aren’t either.

Rush R40 Tour – Los Angeles (The Forum) Setlist:

  1. The Anarchist
  2. Headlong Flight
  3. Far Cry
  4. The Main Monkey Business
  5. One Little Victory
  6. Animate
  7. Roll the Bones
  8. Distant Early Warning
  9. Losing It
  10. Subdivisions
  11. Tom Sawyer
  12. Red Barchetta
  13. The Spirt of Radio
  14. Jacob’s Ladder
  15. Cygnus X-1 and X-2 Medley with Drum Solo
  16. Closer to the Heart
  17. Xanadu
  18. 2112
    1. Overture
    2. The Temples of Syrinx
    3. Presentation
    4. Grand Finale
  19. Lakeside Park
  20. Anthem
  21. What You’re Doing
  22. Working Man

Written By: AndrewT