Isaak/Lovett at Red Rocks: The Culture Wars Get the Night Off

Veteran crooners bring excellence, gratitude to a glorious outdoor stage

Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett couldn’t be more different at first glance.

Isaak channels rockabilly beats and ’50s falsettos, capped by his penchant for spangles. Lovett may dress like he’s going to work at an accounting firm, but his creak-stained voice isn’t meant to be pretty.

Together, they poured their hearts into a twin-bill concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colo. July 5. What unites the disparate pair? An unabashed love for one of the country’s most elegant venues and a night bereft of politics.

Isaak opened the concert, bringing the same verve and self-deprecation that’s become a hallmark of his shows. If his live act has a flaw it’s in its predictability. 

  • “Ring of Fire” cover? Check!
  • Roy Orbison tribute? Covered!
  • Goofy banter that’s both funny and probably canned? You bet.

None of the above is annoying, nor does it detract from the joy Isaak and friends bring each summer. Plus, Isaak’s pipes remain as untouched by time as his throwback ‘do. His voice actually improved over the course of the set, honed to near-perfection during the obligatory encore.

In between, he tore through favorites like “American Boy,” “Wicked Game” and “Forever Blue” without a hint of boredom seeping in.

He even feted the crowd in ways that proved shockingly populist. He recalled watching a cultural event at the Kennedy Center and noting a commentator praised the crowd for supporting the arts.

Isaak, who hasn’t a cross word for anyone on stage, said that crowd could “write off” their high-powered patronage.

“You’re the actual patrons of the arts,” he said to cheers.

RELATED: Pop Culture Confessions: Why Chris Isaak Matters

Isaak, still youthful at 66 with a profile echoing his boxing past, brings the same backing back with him as always – 37 years and counting, according to the on-stage banter. The years may have kept the crooner seated for longer than usual, but it didn’t make chestnuts like “Two Hearts” any worse for the wear.

“Old songs to sing, new tears to cry,” Isaak sang as part of the mournful “Forever Blue.” The songs may be old, and the band may dip into more hair dye than before, but an Isaak show remains pure entertainment.

Lovett took over after an extended break and set change, looking dapper in a suit that could be a smidge too small for his lanky frame. He brought his iconic Large Band along, a group of absurdly gifted musicians given their fair share of solos.

The singer’s arid wit powered novelty tracks like “Pants Is Overrated,” while “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas)” made even blue state Coloradans swoon.

Lovett’s voice bears a signature flaw, a crevice which gives his vocals a welcome edge. On this night, though, those pipes sounded like they bumped into a belt sander. He soldiered on, but his more fluid ballads came away a bit worse for the wear.

It’s hard to name a standout with Lovett’s Large entourage, but fiddler player Luke Bulla wowed the audience by playing his instrument like an acoustic guitar. Bulla’s voice proved an even sweeter instrument during his solo number. Lovett just stood back, soaking it all in like someone with the best seat in the house.

Lovett may be a household name and, like Isaak, an occasional thespian, but he remains a blue-collar talent.

“I’m still a folk singer at heart. Tuning my guitar is a big part of my show,” said Lovett, who dipped into his new release, “12th of June,” with the spry title track.

Isaak and Lovett survive, in part, by staying true to themselves. They’re too old, and too savvy, to lunge at the latest trends. They’re also humbled by their enduring success and keenly aware of the people who make it all possible.

And they make sure those people know it.


  1. I was at the concert and this review is an extremely accurate reflection of what occurred. Lyle’s voice was not that good, but Chris did a great job.

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