Chris Isaak & Lyle Lovett July• 1, 2022• Red Butte Garden Amphitheater
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
Red Butte Garden started July off on a good note with a double headliner show starring Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett. These two legends could not have picked a better date to come to Utah. The weather was perfect, and everyone was feeling good heading into the Independence Day weekend. I’ve seen Chris Isaak in concert once. I was invited last minute and was beyond impressed with the concert. I’ve always wanted to see him again. I had never seen Lyle Lovett in concert before this show. So for me personally, this was a perfect mix of anticipation to see someone I had enjoyed before, and the anticipation of seeing someone I had been wanting to see.
I chatted with a few people before the show and I asked them if they had seen either artist before. They had seen both and mentioned that they never pass up the opportunity to see them whenever they come to Utah. They assured me that I was in for a good night.
When I was walking into the amphitheater I noticed there were a lot of tour buses. Like way more than I was expecting. Being an amateur to Lyle Lovett concerts, I was unaware that he brings his “Large Band” with him. Large Band is the actual name of the ensemble. Large indeed. 13 strong by my count. Once the band was in place they began the show with “Are We Dancing?”. Sharply dressed Lyle Lovett took the stage to a warm applause. I always wonder if it’s weird to perform with the sun still up. It seems so much easier when lights are in your face and the room is dark. Lovett looked perfectly comfortable, but it made me wonder.
Lovett departed the stage for the second song, an instrumental, titled “Cookin’ at the Continental”. The Large Band took advantage of the opportunity to show the audience what we were dealing with. Turns out we had a mini orchestra of amazingly talented musicians. There wasn’t a weak link in the group. The music felt like a mix of Jazz and Western Swing. I was drawn in immediately.
Lyle Lovett returned and joined the band by adding his own guitar to the ensemble. The band also increased in numbers as three male backup singers joined Lyle on stage. Lovett and his Large Band now played “Pants is Overrated”. I was fascinated with the style of music that was being played. In many ways, it felt genreless. I’ve mentioned Jazz and Western Swing. But there were times when songs were very much classic Country. It wasn’t one style per se. But it all sounded like Lyle Lovett. I did not know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. I was totally drawn into the performance. These various styles mixed with Lovett’s unique vocals were a refreshing and different experience musically for me.
Lyle Lovett took the time to introduce one by one each member of his band. Many of them have recorded with Lovett since 1988. The musician that stood out to me the most, and the one I recognized from the moment he walked on stage was bassist Leland Sklar. You may have seen Sklar perform here and there, but you have no doubt heard him. He has played bass guitar on many of the greatest songs in Rock n Roll history. I looked and there are too many to list in this review. But I consider it a real honor to have seen him perform live. The man is a living legend.
Lyle Lovett’s set felt like it flew by. Songs like “Her Loving Man” and “12th of June” stood out as favorites from the crowd. Many couples got up to slow dance together during these and many other songs. The audience loved what might be Lovett’s biggest hit “If I Had a Boat”. People were singing along witht their friends.
Lyle shared that his young son has been spent his young life as a vegetarian. “But he loves bacon!” he exclaimed. He followed his comments with “Pig Meat Man”. The song had a nice groove to it. A Blues feel. People moved and got into it.
Lyle Lovett ended his set by thanking the Utah audience. “We appreciate you bringing us back to Salt Lake City every year. Y’all come down to my state some time.” He then finished with “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)”. The song had elements of a Dixieland Gospel style. People were on their feet clapping and dancing. Many raising their hands as if they were in church. It was a fun closer that got the crowd going and also showed off all of the strengths of Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. Seeing Lyle Lovett in concert far exceeded any expectations I had. He’s a true artist.
Lyle Lovett was such a good experience that I began to worry that after all that Chris Isaak might be a bit of a letdown. Well, I had nothing to worry about. Chris Isaak is a true performer. His band was significantly smaller, but they were awesome in their own right. The first thing I noticed was just how good Chris’ voice still is. There are so many singers in their 60s who just don’t have the pipes they once had. With Chris Isaak this is not the case. It seemed his voice was as strong and as clear as it has always been. Even his falsetto was as pure as I’ve ever heard it. That seems to be the first thing to go. But Isaak sounded excellent.
There is one thing I lied about though. While I did notice how amazing Chris Isaak’s voice was, the first thing I noticed was his suit. Chris Isaak Walked out in a black suit with an intricate rhine stone design. It sparkled in the lights.
Isaak told the crowd that he wears these suits like doctors wear their white robes. It shows that they’re professionals and that people should feel comfortable taking their clothes off in front of them. The comment drew a large laugh from the Red Butte Garden crowd. Chris is a great entertainer. He was really funny throughout the night. Chris ensured us that the show wouldn’t go below the State Fair level. He told us this was a family show. Then his drummer yelled out, “Bull Shit!”. Another large laugh from the crowd. When things got a little loose later in the night, he joked that they were still above State Fair level although he could smell the corn dogs.
I was surprised when Isaak played his smash hit, “Wicked Game” pretty early in the set. The song was unsurprisingly well received. People slow danced. Others got, how should I put this, real friendly during the song. I have a feeling a lot of people at the show have this song on a certain playlist. Things got steamy real quick in the amphitheater. I’ve heard this song a million times like all of us have. It was so huge when it came out. But I have to say that there is nothing like hearing it live. I figure as many times as I’ve heard it, Chris Isaak has performed it. But he still put everything into the song and it sounded excellent.
Chris mentioned that while they did have a setlist to go by they often get lost and excited. He invited the remaining sitters to stand up. That we were in the Rock n Roll portion of the show. They didn’t need much convincing. The entire venue was on their feet when Chris Isaak performed a cover of “Ring of Fire”. I love that song and he did a great job with it. Come to think of it, Isaak did an awesome job with all of the covers he performed. He also played Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” to perfection. Sharing a story of when he opened for Orbison and Roy helped him get noticed by the press. Something that helped launch his career. Chris also covered “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley. I came to the conclusion that Chris Isaak may have been born a couple of decades too late. His voice is perfect for these songs and this style of music. But perhaps it’s good that he was born when he was so he can carry the torch of this great genre of music.
The wind picked up. The hanging speakers swayed and the wind blew into the microphones a few times. But that didn’t slow down Chris and the boys or the fans. We continued on with a night of great music. A couple of nights earlier at Howard Jones, lightning caused the show to be stopped for a few minutes. From what I could tell there was no lightning or threat of bad weather in the air. So we were able to finish the show without delay.
When Chris Isaak returned for his encore, he was now donned in what I can only describe as a suit that looked like a mirror ball. His music matched the look as he broke into another huge hit of his, “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing”. The crowd was so into it. The song has such a good groove and seemed to have a way of drawing the crowd in completely. People were letting loose and singing along. There was a woman next to me who had been dancing the entire night. She did not hold back on this song. A younger man came up to her and just started dancing. Nothing inappropriate, just dancing near her as if he didn’t notice her. As the song progressed, they started dancing together. It almost looked rehearsed how in sync they were with each other. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it.
The entire night was a great experience. Lyle Lovett got the show going. He impressed me far beyond anything I could have imagined. Chris Isaak carried things to the next level and entertained the sold out Red Butte Garden audience. It was an excellent pairing for what was a perfect summer night in Salt Lake City.