Chris Isaak and his band have performed together for 35 years. They’re so comfortable with each other that wherever they travel through their catalog of Isaak’s original compositions and some treasured rocking classics, they can harmonize and bring out the best in each song.
That wasn’t always the case.
“I remember when I had a one-room apartment, and on my wall was a list of drummers and bass players,” Isaak said. “I would dress up and go out to clubs — not to meet girls, but to find a bass player.”
Fans can hear Isaak and his band Thursday evening at Sprint Pavilion, with Tift Merritt opening the show.
Over the years, the songwriter, musician and actor has seen many bands come and go, and he’s grateful for the strong working relationship and camaraderie he and his team have built over the years. Being able to get along is important when you’ll end up spending so much time together in the rehearsal space, in the studio and on the road.
“They’ve got to have a common thread, and we’re pretty common,” he said with a chuckle.
The musicians devote hours to rehearsals, which have been a centering source of the group’s longevity.
“I look forward to seeing them and playing with them, and it’s the best time of day,” Isaak said. “The rest of the day, I’m at the hardware store, standing in line like everybody else. After I’ve been a rock star for two hours, I get to go home and move the trash cans.”
Having a solid team gives room to keep reaching for more.
“I’m on a high wire,” he said. “But I have a net.”
“Wicked Game,” the track from his 1989 “Heart Shaped World” album that became Isaak’s most well known song, turns 30 this year. The atmospheric Herb Ritts beach video with supermodel Helena Christensen has lost none of its steam over the years.
Isaak likes to keep his show fresh with a combination of hits and surprises.
“I’m going to do ‘Wicked Game.’ I’m going to do ‘Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing.’ I’m going to do ‘Blue Hotel,’’’ Isaak said. “I’m going to do those, and I love those, but I’m going to put in something people don’t know.”
He’s likely to play something by artists he admires and listeners love — Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash. Whether he’s in songwriter or performer mode, he gravitates toward melodic material.
“We do ballads, but we’re a rock band,” Isaak said.
Looking the part counts. When it’s time to take the stage, “I look like I raided Liberace’s closet and I took the things he was afraid to wear,” Isaak said.
“I have one suit that’s covered with mirrors that weighs about 35 pounds. It’s like the Tin Man; you can move around, but you can’t sit down.”
And one thing’s for certain: Isaak does not like to keep people waiting.
“I love starting on time,” Isaak said. “We’re thrilled to do it. My dad drove a forklift for a living, so I’m grateful to have this great job. I’m usually dressed about an hour before showtime.
“We love our job. We never miss work.”
During one of his tour dates in California, Isaak will have the fun of treating his mother like a queen backstage.
“My mom worked at a potato chip factory, and she wasn’t used to getting the VIP treatment,” he said. “Sometimes, the most fun is to see someone who never gets the VIP treatment get it.
“I love touring. I love the band. The only twinge of pain I get is my mom is getting older. I sometimes wish I had the job where I’m in town and I can see her every day.”
Isaak’s work has been featured in numerous soundtracks. In addition to the instrumental version of “Wicked Game” in David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart,” his “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” can be heard in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” That song also got the Ritts treatment in a video with supermodel Laetitia Casta. “Two Hearts” is in the “True Romance” soundtrack; “Life Will Go On” wound up in “Chasing Liberty.”
Isaak also enjoys acting; he and his bandmates played themselves in “The Chris Isaak Show” on Showtime for three years. But playing for audiences remains at the heart of what he does.
“To say we are lucky would be an understatement,” Isaak said.
“We always have a crowd, and we’ve always had all the work we wanted. I’m very grateful.”