Pop Chris Isaak Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture
There's a touch of irony, there must be, in the way Chris Isaak cultivates his hangdog persona. Through six albums, culminating in this year's lachrymose Forever Blue - a road movie on the freeway of romance where every car is going in the other direction - Isaak has made his pain all too plain. A farm boy raised in Stockton, California and an ex-boxer (the seven-times broken nose ending up luckily retrousse), no blow has scarred, it seems, like the sort he encountered in the ring of love. These days, "Pretty girls walk by/ They don't ever look at you." Oh, please. When the boy takes the stage, a showman in a diamante suit, he looks like a macho Chet Baker, so appallingly handsome it socks you in the solar plexus.

Isaak does a very good job. At the end of a month-long tour, his voice easily hits the Roy Orbison tremolo, the coyote howl. It's a strangely dated, retro kind of sound, rock 'n' roll doo-wop pastiche, like a band who'd steal a scene in American Graffiti but, from the first Link Wray guitar rumble, it works. This is partly to do with Isaak's tight backing band, suited like the boys in Reservoir Dogs, with whom he carries out playful bits of business. So, after a few heartbreakers - "Somebody's Cryin' ", the Twin Peaks anthem "Wicked Game" and "Western Stars", which kd lang usurped - he cuts looser, dragging in sax player Johnny Reno, the evening's stooge, and dishing out avuncular advice. "This is a song about a relationship. Now, in a relationship, you have a woman, and she's like a beautiful flower, and a man, and he's - I speak metaphorically - like a bee. They connect. Problem comes when the bee, he has a flower here, and a flower there ... See, Johnny, this has an unhappy ending." Whereupon Isaak launches into the Exorcist growl of "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing".

Later, he straps his guitar to the limelight-hogging Reno ("Think you can take my place? Well, here's the brake, and here's the clutch. Y'know, when I was a kid, we had a dog named Prince could turn on the TV..."). It's just an excuse. Stripping off his jacket to reveal a silver shirt with short sleeves straining over whopping biceps, Isaak takes up the sax. Flanked by a drummer the spit of Ernest Borgnine and a bassist who is surely Harry Dean Stanton in a wig, Isaak can't help but have death-defying charisma.

There's a sleazy instrumental break for "Harlem Nocturne", and by the time the second encore winds up with "Blue Hotel" and "Lie To Me", six or seven babes are cavorting on the stage, but making no impression. Everyone's watching the broken-hearted boy, who's grinning like a wolf.

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