Concert-goers and die hard fans of Gregory Alan Isakov are normally used to seeing three other band members backing his gorgeous and glowing songwriting. But in addition to the banjo, violin and upright bass support on his current tour, Gregory has welcomed the support of a full-blown orchestra. In some cities he’ll play in a formal theater with a massive symphony and in others, like last Thursday in Webster Hall, he performed with The Ghost Orchestra, which included multiple wind and brass instruments.
I walked in towards the end of the first song, which was a new tune I had never heard before, but for the minute I heard it I could tell it would be something to look forward to on the next new album of originals. That song only featured banjo accompaniment but for the next song (which was also new and again another exciting tease at what’s to come on a future album), he brought out the violin and upright bass players. And finally, after building up the accompanying band members, The Ghost Orchestra took the stage for the third song This Empty Northern Hemisphere. The studio version of this song has a very orchestral, worldly sound to it and hearing it live with its full colors made the experience very memorable.
Next, Greg strummed his way into a mellow, calm version of Amsterdam, which featured some beautiful violin and light brass overtones. Steve Varney showed off his banjo skills during The Stable Song as Greg rang out Webster Hall like silver and gold. For Saint Valentine, Greg and the banjo, bass and violin player stood around one microphone for a raw, stripped back and unplugged folkie performance. The full orchestra took the stage again for That Moon Song, which featured a powerful female vocal presence and harmony.
One set highlight I always soak in every second of when I see a Gregory Alan Isakov show, is The Universe, as he has all of the lights in the room turned off and the only lights are the dim orange glow from the globe stage props. That song live, in the dark is one of the most meditative performances in the folk music scene today.
Greg performed three new songs at the end of the set, one of which he told the audience was called New York City On A Tuesday, which was inspired by walking around the area the day before the show. Next Greg performed his friend Ron Scott’s song Lairs in which he has taken the seed of, embellished and truly made his own live and on the new record with the Colorado symphony.
The set closer was Dandelion Wine – another track off This Empty Northern Hemisphere which has a lot of room for severe orchestral overtones and monstrous symphonic sounds. And in true, Colorado folkie fashion, Greg capped the night with an unplugged, stripped back Drank All The Wine around one microphone. An addition to the violin, bass and banjo on this tune was the piercing country sounds of the mandolin.
Gregory Alan Isakov gave one thousand percent of his energy to Webster Hall last Thursday and he couldn’t have done it without his superb supporting cast.
Scott J. Herman