Boulder, Colorado farmers have many stories to tell about the spacious lands and primitive lifestyles they inhabit. However, most of these ranchers don’t reflect on their tiresome field days by writing enchanting melodies, evocative lyrics and hammering away at an acoustic guitar to alleviate built up energy. Gregory Alan Isakov is a rare exception.
Instead of spending Sunday April 19th brooding at a “pizza depression party” with his neighbour, Gregory thanked his audience at Music Hall of Williamsburg for participating in one of the best Sunday nights of his life. Jolie Holland captured the audience with her unique, airy, bluesy voice for the first hour of the night. Then Gregory and his band took the stage and floored the audience all night with sharp, tender vocals complete with the enriching sounds of his folk quartet.
The first song – an unreleased tune called Monsters – beckoned everyone’s undivided attention as Greg’s voice lit up the room. A track with just guitar and vocals will never disappoint on a Gregory Alan Isakov record, and when this song is released it will surely be a favorite. Greg continued his set with two songs from The Weatherman. The music blasted off when the drums and full band joined in on Amsterdam, which generated a roaring mid-song applause. Greg toned down the energy on the next song with the intimate, gentle O’ City Lights, which was inspired by the writings of Jack Kerouac. Jeb Bows stole the song with a haunting, screeching violin solo just before the tune ended.
Three songs from This Empty Northern Hempisphere followed the opening tunes. Greg performed a powerful rendition of That Moon Song using two alternating microphones, one of which produced a Gregory Alan Isakov classic megaphone effect. The trade off between Greg’s natural, warm voice and the megaphone effect developed a call and answer vibe to the song and added a unique soul to the concert. Big Black Car wowed the audience as cellist Phil Parker and violinist Jeb Bows exchanged beautiful, energetic orchestral solos.
The first major highlight of the night occurred when Greg asked for the stage and house lights to be turned completely off. “We realized recently how much we love playing in the dark.” The room was dead silent and as he peacefully broke into The Universe the only light in the entire room was Greg’s glow in the dark globe stage prop. Not only was this one of the highlights of the night but also an unforgettable memory that is branded in my mind for eternity.
Another climax of the night was Saint Valentine into Suitcase Full Of Sparks. The band gathered around one microphone and unplugged their instruments, creating the full intimate, acoustic vibe for these tunes. Steve Varney attracted most of the attention with sharp, intense banjo playing.
My jaw completely dropped when Greg told the audience “I’d like to welcome my good friend Nathaniel Rateliff to the stage,” another Colorado folkie who I’d been anxious to see live. Greg played backup rhythm guitar and sang harmony on Nathaniel’s original When Do You See. Their friendship shined through the song and even though their stage presences and vocals are vastly different, both of these singer/songwriters in their trucker and cowboy hats blended their styles smoothly.
Greg powered through the rest of the set belting his way through Master & A Hound and leaving the crowd wanting more with set closer Lairs. For the encore Greg called up Jolie Holland and her band to support his band for and ultimate acoustic jam – one microphone unplugged style – which served as a perfect cap to the night. Gregory Alan Isakov performs with such feeling and flare, leaving fans wanting more and begging for him to come back to a concert hall nearby as soon as possible.
Scott J. Herman