At first glance, Saturday night's lineup at the Merriweather Post Pavilion probably looked like some sort of rock and roll revival show. At one end of the bill was Chris Isaak, whose gold-lame suit and Elvis Presley pompadour seem straight out of the '50s; at the other was Bonnie Raitt, a singer and slide guitarist whose roots remain firmly grounded in pre-rock blues and R&B.
Yet for all their traditionalist trappings, Raitt and Isaak are thoroughly modern rockers, something Saturday's show made eminently obvious.
Isaak for instance, may dress the part of a rockabilly icon, but he refuses to play like a purist, and that keeps his music from succumbing to cliche. Isaak and his Silvertones basically do only two songs -- a slow one and a fast one -- but do both well enough that it's hard to hold that limitation against them. For one thing, Isaak's slow songs are like no other; with their slow, brooding pulse, eerie, atmospheric guitar and haunting, mournful vocals, tunes like "Wicked Game" or "Heart Shaped World" convey a sense of heartbreak with uncanny accuracy.
Still, as much as fans cheered "Wicked Game,"' what really got them going was when Isaak brought out sax maniac Johnny Reno, and led his band through a series of up-tempo ravers like Do Diddley's "Diddley Daddy." Mood may sell records, but it's the big beat that moves a crowd.