Touring with Passenger, and for the first time without full band support, as a solo act was the “scariest/coolest thing” Gregory Alan Isakov has ever done. He told this to the audience at the Beacon Theater, just as the house lights turned on after the dark, chilling version of The Universe. This was the second time I’ve seen Isakov live and the second time he’s told the stage crew to turn off all the lights for the song. There’s a certain unmatched live singer/songwriter vibe, an incomparable hegemony Isakov holds over other folk troubadours when he sings into a completely dark theater “the universe she’s wounded” through a bullet microphone.
He opened with a beautiful rendition of She Always Takes It Black followed by Amsterdam, one of my favourites from his latest album The Weatherman. A nice surprise to what seemed to be a completely solo set was the lively, bright banjo pluckings of Steve Varney on Time Will Tell and Stable Song. Steve contributed some vocal harmonies to the end of Stable Song as he and Isakov mmme’d away until the audience applauded. The final song was a new tune called Liars – a standard, mellow, haunting song that he told us would be released on a new live record in a few months, in which he’s backed by the Colorado symphony. This is sure to be an exciting and different record for Isakov and one of my most treasured holiday gifts.
The headliner for this show was Passenger. “I’ll start with a depressing one” he said into the mic before strumming the opening chords of Fairytales. Most of the entertainment in this act came from his witty banter. “You might think you can’t move because you’re in these comfortable theater seats listening to one guy play sensitive folk music.” Included in his set was fan favorite Life’s For The Living as well as a song called David, which was written about the bum outside of the open mic night in Glasgow, where Passenger was a regular back in the day. After a week of cigarette breaks the same bum told him the same life story enough times for it to inspire a new Passenger song.
Isakov and Passenger have polar opposite vocal approaches to their performances. While Isakov has a mellower, pure serenade, Passenger belts out a more airy, raspy, wish-I-never-smoked-a-cigarette style. Gregory Alan Isakov absolutely stole the show on this one, but both performers gave it their all in one of New York’s most beautiful theaters.
Written By Scott J. Herman
Photograph by Kevin Condon