"A man has to dream. I think Frank Sinatra said that, or it was in the Bible," Chris Isaak mused at the Coach House on Saturday. While he may have had trouble pinning down his maxim's source, Isaak's set showed that he has taken it to heart. Like few other American performers of this decade, he has forged a unique musical vision. Like that of his distant mentor Roy Orbison, it's one that's powerfully based on mood and reflection.
Led by James Calvin Wilsey's atmospheric, echoing, spy-movie guitar, Isaak's band both rains and thunders through his overcast overtures. On stage, Isaak added a plaintive immediacy to the moody masterpieces "Wicked Game" and "Heart Shaped World" and to the obsessive "Wrong to Love You," and pumped Tarzan-sized yodels into the rampaging "Wild Love."
His absurdist monologues, Link Wray instrumental excursions, tiki-lit stage setting and model's looks didn't defuse the songs' emotional impact. For all its power, though, Isaak's set still left the nagging impression that if he were to push just a little harder, take more chances with his voice and music, he could become one of the most affecting, inspiring performers extant.