I went to the Chris Isaak show at the Little Creek Casino in Shelton on Sunday. I had never been to a casino show before (the closest I’ve been is probably the Blue Oyster Cult show outdoors in Elma five years ago, in which the musicians seemed strangely oblivious to their locale and relied heavily on the familiarity of their tunes to overwhelm the audience into confusing the aggressive goatee of the young man theatrically playing the bass for part of the organic entity which used to produce great albums), but being quite familiar with the buffet, expected the same type of satisfaction- the kind one gets from stuffing oneself on greasy delicacies scooped with the abandon of an individual drunk on choices from a trough onto an eternally clean plate. But while usually at the casino the sensation of overabundant materiality I get at the buffet ends up quickly dissipating at the roulette table, where I rediscover the true limit to my selfhood at the bottom of my pocket, on this Sunday evening my thirty five bucks bought me a lingering sense of expansiveness. Let me you tell you how my money works.
Chris Isaak was already playing when we got in. He was wearing a blue suit, sequined in what from the distance appeared to be a pattern of some kind of trippy flower, which refracted the many colored spotlights at all times, giving him a self conscious shimmer on stage. Two video screens from the side of the stage provided unflattering closeups. On the screen, his face appeared appropriately old (it seemed like some skin around the bottom of his face was sagging a little, giving his cleft chin a slightly undesirable definition), but he was well groomed and blue eyed and could alternate from looks of distant intensity (while he was soloing) to affable southern familiarity (while mildly cajoling the crowd with various types of innuendo) in an easy, human manner that I’m gonna call sexual. His band was old and they got much fewer close ups. It was really the spirit of old time rock n roll in there. Because they were old, and the first thing Chris Isaak said was “thank you for supporting live music- we play all this”. There’s something about having to note that by witnessing live music you are supporting it (as though, like a frail old rockabilly it needed the shoulder of some confused gawker to lean on as it hobbled back to the green room) that evokes that nostalgic past which rockers are so paranoid about losing that they constantly engage in schizophrenic discourses on authenticity. But Chris Isaak was celebratory. At one point the scurrying stage hands wheeled in a neon sign that said “Memphis Recording Studio” and proceeded to play a series of obscure 50’s rock numbers (“Dixie Fried”- about getting fun drunk in a creaky bar with some poor people is the only one I can remember) that ended with a flaming piano/foot music “Great Balls of Fire”. He was attempting to channel the spirit of the Sun rockers. And although everyone knows that what was dangerous in the fifties appears silly now (street thugs with sweaters? communists? juvenile delinquency? foreign people? please), when Chris Isaak referenced being drunk or drinking (“I know the show’s running a little late, but we’re going to jam for a bit- so go ahead and call your babysitter and tell her to give your baby some gin”) it was clear from the cheers that people of all ages love to party, and that partying is more fun when you presume that someone doesn’t want you to party, and by partying you are saying fuck you to someone besides yourself. This being said, I can’t say the rebellious spirit of partying ruled the night. The rockabilly numbers would occasionally drag a little, my attention would wander to an image of a puffy hand caressing a whammy bar in spurts on the Diamond vision for a moment before being hoisted back on stage by the blue collar guitar moves (swagger, hop, three men in a row, bow and kick, crouch intently etc.) constantly being executed by the professionals on stage. Chris Isaak is more known for his creamy falsetto, and it was a playful (thank lord) sexuality that kept me interested. I can’t presume to be the only one. At various points Chris Isaak wandered into the audience to sing passionately into a customer’s eyes, sat tenderly on a folding chair near a starstruck fan, hand selected some women to grind his bassist, and made eye contact with plenty in the first row. All without appearing grimy somehow. How much was ok here? More than the workplace, less than the bedroom. Sexuality can be a very clumsy thing in the hands of a bluesy white guy on stage- Chris Isaak reassured me with his smoothness. The smoothness is his trademark I guess. When he held out those notes for over a minute it was definitely tantric.
At these kind of shows the encore is mandatory, and they didn’t make us wait too long before he came out wearing a suit made completely of four inch mirrors. That was really impressive- I haven’t seen someone wear something that fashionable at a rock show for some time, and I go to all these hipster things where I thought people would be taking things like that into consideration. Complete entertainer, getting ecstatic crowd love by giving people what they want. Kind of the opposite of most show experiences I have, because in my scene music is all about art- it’s supposed to be art or anti art or whatever. When I do see bands that focus more on entertainment it’s awful because they’re usually poor and desperate, there’s not enough people usually in the room to get that peer pressure induced laughter that the majority of stand up comedians abuse and they’re willfully excising any shred of creativity from their music because they’re paranoid about art and what it means. Looks like you have to be rich, have at least five gorgeous songs, be able to treat people on stage and on the ground as humans, and be funny and attractive even when old to pull it off. Not so much of a bummer as it seems, because if I was this lavishly entertained every night I’d be so calloused during the day that I’d have to intravenously inject vitamins just to feel real.