Chris Isaak is not a bad-looking man. Pretty decent singer, too. As Elvis first proved, that combo can make for good entertainment and sometimes, good rock-and-roll. Isaak's show at Wolf Trap Thursday night got darn close to both.
Vamping his tall, dark and handsome stuff, the California-bred singer rode equal parts Presley (sequined and crushed velvet suits, macho swagger), Roy Orbison (Isaak's distinctive high-register wail/moan) and Dick Dale (twangy rockabilly/surf riffing) to multiple encores.
Though his musical settings aren't particularly adventurous, his well-drilled backing band, Silvertone-- consisting of drummer Kenney Johnson, bassist Rowland Salley, guitarist Hershel Yatovitz and a keyboardist--made the simple frameworks come alive. Material from Isaak's latest, "Speak of the Devil," especially "Please," "I'm Not Sleepy" and "Wanderin,' " easily outstripped their flat CD incarnations. Isaak proved that brooding, economical settings that stack his voice up front remain his forte. The velvety whoosh of "Flying" and his best-known song, "Wicked Game," were high points of the set, though a lively version of Bo Diddley's "Diddley Daddy" and Isaak's growling/purring vocal on "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" (given new life for Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut") weren't far behind.
Isaak proved adept at devilish banter, too, and by the time a second encore was through, he had made believers of the crowd that filled the pavilion and sprawled across the lawn. By then, a howling female contingent could attest that velvety vocal chords and high cheekbones get 'em every time.
A school of sharks, the inflatable or stuffed kind, was seen circling the Nissan Pavilion Thursday night. So were lots of women, young and old, in grass skirts or cut-off jeans or bikinis, toting salt-stained margarita glasses and clearly looking for a good time. Their boyfriends and husbands, not to be outdone, obviously spent much of the day making a spectacle of themselves, too, trying on plastic leis, fin-shaped caps and straw hats laden with enough faux fruit to choke a pink flamingo. Yes, Jimmy Buffett was coming to town.
Accustomed to being upstaged by his fans, Buffett even videotaped the tailgate parties and played back the footage from the Felliniesque beach party during the show. He also delivered a theatrical experience of his own. Inspired by his new album, "Beach House on the Moon," the concert was loosely--very loosely--built around a lunar journey, complete with thunderous blastoff, taped "Special Reports" from Walter Cronkite, and footage of astronaut Buffett trying to wolf down a cheeseburger under zero-gravity conditions.
Apart from an appealing cameo by the Tams, the animated shag-dancing vocal quintet, the new album didn't add much boost or thrust to the concert--"Math Suks" even generated a sluggish encore. But Buffett compensated by giving the packed and endlessly cheering house exactly what it wanted: a frothy concoction of Top 40 hits, including "Margaritaville" and "Changes in Latitudes," along with a chaser of career novelties, well-crafted ballads and at least one unprintable barroom anthem.
Clearly, Buffett's patented party mix hasn't lost its potency as far as his fans are concerned. The 2 1/2-hour performance nearly sustained a standing ovation from beginning to end, thanks in part to a seasoned 14-piece band that moved gracefully from Caribbean rhythms to Nashville twang. Yet there were plenty of moments when the cheesy costume scenarios being played out on the lawn were a lot more diverting than the music performed onstage.
The Melos Ensemble, founded by clarinetist Gervase de Peyer in 1992, performed Thursday night at the International Finance Corp. auditorium. De Peyer modeled his group after a similar one he organized a half-century ago in London. Thursday's program mixed clarinet, violin (Jose Miguel Cueto) and piano (Nancy Roldan) in a pleasant assortment of works by Beethoven, Darius Milhaud, Carlos Gustavino and Bela Bartok.
The Melos gave Milhaud's suite for the three instruments the patina of the light-infused Provencal lyricism the composer calls for. However, persistent understatement--the most obvious trait of the music and its Melos version--resulted in a quite forgettable performance in which linear definition was submerged in consistently muted timidity.
Likewise, Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata for violin and piano came across as a lackadaisical reading well short of the passionate momentum it needs to get through the composer's characteristic maze of seeming contradictions.
The sonata by Gustavino, who was identified only as Roldan's onetime dissertation adviser, suffered from a similar flaccid sameness due as much to the music--a conglomeration of 1940s Hollywood hype and diluted Rachmaninoffisms--as to de Peyer's playing, which seemed to suffer from a lack of wind support.
The Melos invested the evening's finale, Bartok's "Contrasts," with a certain amount of interest.