Two Concerts Heat Up New York Nights

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Chris Isaak may be "Forever Blue," which is the title track of his new CD on Warner/Reprise, but you wouldn't know it from his concert performance.

Although the album concentrates on songs about lost love and features the singer in his most emotive, Roy Orbison-like mode, in concert his exuberance and sense of humor held. Even when he started off with some slow, ruminative material, he took pains to reassure the crowd: "Don't worry, there'll be faster stuff later."

And there was. The songs from the new album gained strength and intensity in concert, from the heartfelt "Somebody's Crying" to the moody "Graduation Day" to the impassioned "I Believe." A song like "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," which is a fairly routine number on the record, was a highlight of the show, with the band going full out, and including a solo by the sax player, Johnny Reno, performed in the theater's upper balcony.

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Any one of the songs featured in the show, including his hit single "Wicked Game" (clearly the crowd favorite), could have received this typical introduction: "This is an unrequited love song.... That means that bad things happen." But the singer, laughing and joking, seems to have conquered the feelings that inspired his music. Performing the last few songs in a dazzling mirrored suit that reflected the bright lights, he seemed to light up the theater.

If an introduction by 1960s icon, and ice-cream flavor inspiration, Wavy Gravy, seemed out of place for an Emmylou Harris concert, it was in keeping with the singer's eclecticism on her new album "Wrecking Ball" (Elektra/Asylum). It was produced by Daniel Lanois, famous for his work with such artists as U2, the Neville Brothers, and Peter Gabriel. Harris's gorgeous soprano tackles songs by Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Lanois himself, in an engrossing, ethereal production that should land several of the cuts on pop playlists.

Harris performed a good chunk of the new album, as well as selected old favorites, in her concert at the Beacon Theatre, in which she performed with the Daniel Lanois Band. Although performed by only four musicians, the show effectively replicated the complex musical textures of the album, making use of edgy percussion structures, electric-guitar layering, and echo effects.

Certain songs, such as Lanois's "Deeper Well," a rocking gospel number, were notable departures for Harris. The album's title cut, Neil Young's lyrically ambiguous "Wrecking Ball," received a lush treatment that made it one of the highlights. Other standouts were "Goin' Back to Harlan" and "Sweet Old World."

Harris did not ignore her country side, performing such old favorites as Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty." Lanois performed several numbers solo and with his band, including a striking New Orleans funk number that featured a lengthy percussion interlude. After the encore (a gospel number performed a cappella), Harris blew a big kiss to the audience who, in the form of a standing ovation and huge cheers, blew it right back.

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