Couple things about Thursday night’s episode of BIO Channel’s “The Chris Isaak Hour.”
First of all, Rodney’s back and I am relieved with a Capital R. In fact, I considered blaming my delinquency in blogging last week’s Michael Bublé episode on my protesting Furry Little Brother’s recent absence. But mostly I just ran out of time. The show was good. When it repeats, you should watch it — or watch it again — because even if Bublé’s uberslick crooner shtick is not for you, the combination of Chris Isaak and Michael Bublé in a single camera shot is about as pleasing a multi-generational, gender-ational, musical-taste-ational thing as I can think up, I swear.
To that end, the other thing is this: As much as I enjoy learning a thing or two or more about the singers and bands who serve as his guests (and I always do), I now realize that I crave Isaak’s preternatural, unblinking, Ken Doll-meets-Mister Rogers serenity as a sort of weekly video therapy session. He puts the warmth in cool. Or the cool in warmth. Or something like that. Beats the hell out of yoga. Looks and sounds better, too.
Anyhow, on to the episode. If you’ve grown accustomed to seeing Chris and a single guest, each on one sofa with acres to spare, the sight of Chicago’s founding members Lee Loughnane, James Pankow and Walter Parazaider crammed onto one, and Robert Lamm, Chris and a snoozy Rodney on the other is a little comical.
On the other hand, these guys have toured together every single year since the advent of their band 41 years ago, so they’ve probably been in closer quarters than these.
For example, here is trombonist Pankow’s bemused description of the first house in which the band mates lived upon their transplant from, yes, Chicago to L.A. in 1968: “Each guy had his own shelf in the medicine cabinet, each guy had his own shelf in the refrigerator and we drew straws… because the last guy in the shower got cold water.”
Their delight making a lifelong career of music still seems that fresh — Loughnane catches himself tearing up when he recalls the photographer at their first official photo shoot telling him to “Look the way you want to look to the world. Because this is going to be all over the world.” (“What the hell am I crying about!” he snorts. “Because you’re a sappy Irishman,” growls a brotherly Pankow.) And it remains evident even as the gentle Isaak steers the conversation down some less than pleasant Chicago alleyways, including guitar virtuoso Terry Kath’s accidental gun death in 1978, the band’s break with David Foster-fostered frontman Peter Cetera in 1985 and the puzzling fact that they have yet to be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite having more charted hits than any other American band in history.
Though Parazaider jokes that it makes them “the Rodney Dangerfield of rock,” the slight doesn’t seem to bother the band an iota as much as it does its legions of admirers, Isaak included.
Some of the best tales come from Isaak drawing out individual band members on the genesis of hits they penned, such as Pankow’s “Color My World,” which he says is a tribute to his first true love, inspired by Bach arpeggios. Or Robert Lamm cribbing the titular lyric in “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” from a philosophical Bronx movie usher apparently without a watch. Or Lamm ruining all those Internet conspiracy-theorists’ fun by saying once and for all that “25 or 6 to 4” really IS just about him sitting up all night, cross-legged on the floor, and watching the lights of Hollywood as he tried to write a song. [Overtired writer fun fact: I am trying to finish this blog at 25 or 4 past 6. I’m just sayin’.]
This time Isaak’s band sits the musical numbers out to make room for Parazaider, Pankow, Lamm and Loughnane, who are joined by fellow band members Bill Champlin on keys, Keith Howland on guitar, Tris Imboden on drums and bassist Jason Scheff, a veritable Peter Cetera sound-alike, save for some wildly peculiar phrasing (“Tuntay fava sistah fuerrrrrrrrr”) that made me sort of want to reach through the screen, pop him one and holler “Sing it normal!”
But all was redeemed when a blissed-out Isaak joined them on the show’s final number, “Saturday in the Park,” thoroughly enjoying his role as yes-man when Lamm asked if he could dig it.
Yes he could. So did I. You will too.
Chicago comes to The Chris Isaak Hour Thursday night at 10pm ET.