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December 12, 2017

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Chris Isaak no stranger to performing in Las Vegas — or admiring its icons

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Scott Harrison/Retna/HarrisonPhotos.com

Chris Isaak performs at Grand Events Center at Green Valley Ranch on Saturday, April 7, 2012.

He needs to dig out, and shine up, the mirrored suit.

“For Vegas, I will bring it out,” Chris Isaak promises. “This is a suit that even Liberace would find a little over the top.”

The gleaming outfit, outfitted entirely of small mirrors, turns Isaak into a human disco ball.

“This thing weighs about 35 pounds, and I can’t lift my arms even to brush hair my hair, but you should see the eyes light up and cameras come out when I walk out in it,” says Isaak, who has saved the flashy costume for his encore. “It is very Vegas.”

It is that, and so is Isaak, who is back in town Saturday at the Joint at Hard Rock Hotel (show is at 7 p.m.; tickets start at $39.50 and are available here).

Through the years Isaak has played that room, along with myriad Vegas venues since his first concert in the city in September 1993 at Thomas & Mack Center. Isaak has worked the city, on and off the Strip, at Paris Las Vegas Theater, Hollywood Theatre at MGM Grand (now the House of Copperfield), the Colosseum at Caesars Palace (as special guest of Stevie Nicks), M Pavilion at M Resort, House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, Mandalay Bay Beach, old Joint at the Hard Rock and Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

“What can I say?” Isaak says when considering his long performing history in this city. “Las Vegas has been very good to me.”

Isaak, 60, fits Vegas as well as that mirrored suit simply because he is a cool guy. He recognizes the hip and slick while maintaining a self-effacing sense of humor. Once, I relayed a message to him that I felt he might be the coolest guy ever, and his response: “That makes two of us who feel that.”

Isaak’s embrace of the Vegas vibe was inspired by some of the city’s real superstars. He recalls seeing Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. during their brief arena tour of 1991. This was at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, near Isaak’s hometown of Stockton, Calif.

“So I am watching this show, and I’m not a big Rat Pack guy at the time, at all,” Isaak recalls. “But I’m watching this show, and Dean starts in with, ‘Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime,’ and a guy yells, ‘Louder!’ from the audience. Dean acts like he doesn’t even hear him, but very slowly, while he’s singing the song, he lifts his hand up to flip the guy the bird. Man, it was just great.”

Isaak continues, “Dean had this otherworldly ability to sing a song, and Sammy’s up there, maybe the greatest entertainer who ever lived. And Frank is just Frank — totally in charge. It was a really amazing show.”

The lesson was not entirely musical.

“I was seeing some guys just having fun, and that’s what it’s about,” Isaak said. “Whether you’re making furniture, or hamburgers, or music, the key is to have fun. Those guys understood that, and so did their fans.”

Isaak has talked previously of his affection for, and friendship with, another Vegas legend: Wayne Newton. The two traveled and performed together during USO tours of the Middle East, and Isaak has hung with The Wayner at Casa de Shenandoah.

“You talk about someone who has all the tools, that’s Wayne Newton,” Isaak says. “You talk about what it takes to entertain, to take over an audience, and he has it. He can play just about any instrument; he talks to a crowd like he’s known them all of his life.”

Isaak listens to a little Wayne before hitting the stage.

“I’ll tell you, I play a version of his ‘Strangers in the Night’ every night before I go onstage, with my earpiece in, and there’s Wayne, and damn he can really sing this song,” Isaak says. “I hear that and I am inspired, honestly.”

Isaak recalls a visit with Newton at Casa de Shenandoah when Newton abruptly broke the conversation.

“He says, ‘Wanna feed the penguins?’” Isaak says, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Really? What’s that mean? Is this a euphemism?’ But when you are hanging out with Wayne Newton at Casa de Shenandoah, you will be feeding some penguins, for real.”

Expect Isaak’s show to be an energetic recitation of his familiar originals blended with some covers. The tour is supporting his latest album, “First Comes the Night.” But Isaak is fully aware of what his audience wants to hear.

“Is it what I want to sing? Not always. I can sing whatever I want in the shower,” he says. “So you’ll hear ‘Somebody’s Crying,’ ‘Wicked Game,’ ‘Forever Blue’ and some stuff from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison from my Sun sessions album (a 2013 album in which he covers Sun classics). Tell you what, if you shout it out, I might play it.”

Just don’t shout ‘Louder!’ at Chris Isaak, or risk the consequences. He learned from the best.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats on Instagram Instagram.com/JohnnyKats1.

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