24 Apr 2024

Chris Isaak's West Auckland mall show: 'Most people don't even think it really happened'

7:28 am on 24 April 2024
Singer/songwriter Chris Isaak

Singer/songwriter Chris Isaak. Photo: Supplied

US singer songwriter Chris Isaak is playing some big venues on his latest NZ tour, but even those who saw him play at a West Auckland mall in the late '90s can't quite believe what they saw.

The scene of the sequin-suited crooner playing at the humble LynnMall shopping centre is something of an urban legend - a memory shared by few, not to be found in any encyclopaedia of New Zealand music.

But it definitely happened, with a review surviving on the MTV website, written by Auckland-based veteran music critic Marty Duda.

"I remember that I saw him in LynnMall," he told RNZ First Up. "I found the write up of the show. It happened on May 5, 1997.

"Apparently he'd been brought in to New Zealand to be part of the New Zealand Music Awards, because in '96 and '97 they had an international act.

"He was like the token international guy. So he was in town for a while and his band was here. And I remember going to LynnMall and seeing posters up saying Chris Isaak is going to perform here."

Duda said it was was advertised at 12:15pm on a Monday afternoon and Isaak didn't go on until 12:30pm.

"And sure enough. In the middle of the mall, me and the wife, it was her birthday... We show up at the mall. There's housewives, little kids crying, because, well, let's face it, most of Chris Isaak's songs are about crying anyway, so it seemed appropriate. And some retirees. The ultimate rock'n'roll crowd for him.

"The whole band was set up, on a stage in the mall. At 12:30pm. He came on, and he did a 45 minute set. And it was fantastic.

In Duda's original review from 1997, he wrote: "Isaak takes the stage at about 12:30 and runs the band through a brief instrumental (no chance for a sound check), then kicks into 'Blue Hotel.'

"The sound is surprisingly good in the mall and the band looks like they're having fun. Isaak is looking good in his patented rhinestone and sequin suit. With his name spelled out in beads on the back and various guitar designs and surfing scenes decorating his pants and jacket, U2 have nothing on Chris Isaak when it comes to tackiness.

"After 'Somebody's Crying,' guitarist Hershel Yatovitz starts picking the unmistakable opening riff to 'Wicked Game' and a collective sigh runs through the crowd. A diminutive (under 5 ft.) older woman (she has to be at least 60) pushes her way to the front of the crowd to get a better shot at a photo and babies have been hoisted on their parents' shoulders for a clear view. This is not exactly what you have in mind for a happenin' rock 'n' roll environment, but hey, it works."

Chris Isaak is performing on Wednesday night in Auckland, and Duda will be there to see him again.

"We'll find out how he sounds, but I have a feeling his voice is still in pretty good nick, even though he's 67 now. So I have a feeling he takes care of himself."

As for the apocryphal LynnMall gig, Duda said it was something like a cloudy memory.

"I think like me, most people don't even think it really happened.

"Once you get into the nitty gritty of it, it's like yeah that was pretty cool - how did that happen?"

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