The moody guitar player and singer with hair that would make Elvis proud has made a long and successful career singing about heartbreak and lost love. When the music stops, however, he is incredibly jovial. Isaak will combine his forlorn music and jovial wit in his stage performance at the Grand Sierra Resort on Saturday night.
Two years ago, Isaak did a show at John Ascuaga’s Nugget and the most surprising thing about it was that, beside sounding every bit as good live as he does on his records, Isaak is a very funny man. Maybe it was because his humor was unexpected. From years of listening to 1995’s “Forever Blue” and 1989’s “Heart Shaped World,” Isaak came across as nothing but morose and heartbroken. But quite the opposite comes through in between songs. He cracks jokes and interacts with the audience and by the end, your cheeks hurt so bad from laughing you’d think you’d just sat through a Chris Rock show instead of a Chris Isaak show.
The “Heart Shaped World” album featured Isaak’s breakout hit, “Wicked Game,” which is just as famous for its music video as it is for bringing Isaak’s agony in alto to the world. That video, shot in black and white, featured Isaak and topless supermodel Helena Christensen rolling around on the beach. The song spoke for every man who watched the video: “What a wicked thing to do / To make me dream of you.”
If Isaak truly is as sad as his songs, making music videos with supermodels has to heal some of the pain. The video for his song “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” featured French supermodel Laetitia Casta. The song was featured in director Stanle Kubrick’s last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” which featured Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in a story of extramarital lust. Songs like “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” and “Wicked Game” are among the few of Isaak’s recordings that have gotten much radio play or other wide attention. The song “Somebody’s Cryin’ “ got some radio time in 1995, but otherwise his songs remain known only to fans who buy his albums.
On Feb. 24, Isaak released a new album, “Mr. Lucky.” It’s hard to know if the title is evidence of a new direction for his songwriting or complete sarcasm.
“When I call this album Mr. Lucky — or sing a song titled ‘Big Wide Wonderful World’ — my tongue is nowhere near my cheek,” Isaak said on his official Web site, www.chrisisaak.com. “The truth is that anyone who gets to do what I do for a living should be saying ‘Thank you’ on a daily basis. For all the pains and the pleasures of life, this is a wonderful world and I understand that I really am one of the luckier guys on earth.”
It’s a little tough to believe him given his track record. Again, I harken back to 1995’s “Forever Blue.” Track number 12 is called “I Believe.” Sounds hopeful, right? Check out this lyric: “And I believe in a beautiful day. Yeah I believe it’s gonna work out OK. But not for me, and not for you.”
So, when he says “Big Wide Wonderful World” is happy, I have to wonder if he’s joking.
Isaak’s witty side comes through in his numerous television appearances. He was in an episode of “Friends” in 1996, playing a kindergarten teacher who becomes an object of affection for Lisa Kudrow’s character Phoebe. During the episode’s closing credits, Isaak and Phoebe are playing guitar together when he hits one of his signature high notes. Taken aback, Phoebe stops him and says he ought to find a “more masculine note,” eliciting a befuddled look from Isaak. From 2001-2004 he starred in Showtime’s “The Chris Isaak Show,” which was an adult comedy about his backstage life.
Most recent on Isaak’s list of TV credits is a show currently on The Biography Channel called “The Chris Isaak Hour,” which is a music interview and performance program. His guests have included Jewel, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Stevie Nicks and Trisha Yearwood. Clips are online at www.biography.com/chris-isaak-hour/.
“Frankly, it’s the only way I could get some of these people to talk to me and even play with me,” Isaak joked about his show.
Films have also played an important role in Isaak’s career. Besides having music featured in them, he has had some of those bit parts where you see him, squint, ponder and suddenly realize who it is. A perfect example is 1991’s winner for Best Picture, “Silence of the Lambs.” Who was he in that? you ask. He played a SWAT team commander. In 1992 he played an FBI agent in the movie spinoff of the TV show “Twin Peaks” and he played Uncle Bob in the Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do!”
“I’ve had a blast, and been paid to try and act,” Isaak said, again on his Web site. “I say ‘try’ because anyone who has ever seen me act knows I’m no actor. Still, I’m thankful for the opportunities. In truth, the first thing I ever considered being was a filmmaker, but I couldn’t even imagine how you could ever get paid to do that, but I figured if you got a band together you just might be able to get someone to pay you to play a gig. It’s all worked because music is my real passion.”
Isaak takes his passion to the Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theatre stage Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $38.59, $49.50 or $71.50 and can be purchased by calling (800) 648-3568 or online at www.grandsierraresort.com.