Gregory Alan Isakov and his dedicated audience, bathed in blue.
Judging by folkie troubadour Gregory Alan Isakov
's reaction to finding a sold-out venue on his first visit to Spokane, there are probably few better feelings for a musician than realizing your songs are finding their way to places you've never been.
Isakov's songs reflect his life spent on the move, from his native South Africa to Philadelphia and eventually Colorado — along with years of touring with both his band and solo — and while they can be sad, delicate things, his live show proved anything but. Playing solo other than a few songs when he was accompanied by opener Laurie Shook or guitarist Justin Landis, Isakov smiled often and joked constantly between songs, explaining that the Bartlett audience was hearing the sparse "kitchen versions" of tunes he often writes on the Colorado farm where he lives when not on the road.
"I have never spoken this much on stage before, in my entire life!" Isakov exclaimed a few songs into his hour-plus set, but that's hard to believe given his ease telling stories about the evolution of songs like show-opener "She Always Takes It Black" and its follow-up "Amsterdam."
After those two tunes, he announced he'd start taking requests since it was his first trip to Spokane, and the rest of the night was full of shouts for songs spanning his 10 years or so putting out albums, most recently 2013's The Weatherman
. Hearing his song titles shouted at him seemed to take him aback, as Isakov said "Thank you for knowing my songs. I'm kind of blown away right now."
"Big Black Car" he introduced with a story about its use in a Canadian McDonald's commercial, and how he took the money and donated it to sustainable farming charities. During "Evelyn," he tried to deliver a short guitar solo on his acoustic, only to flub it and exclaim mid-song "When I have the band, we usually rock that part out. Then I realized it's just me up here."
Shook joined him to supply some banjo and harmony vocals on "Time Will Tell" and "The Stable Song," and while the added sounds gave Isakov's songs some added dimension, he was best when he was on stage alone. Although, it was a striking moment when guitarist Landis (Marshall McLean Band) joined him for "The Universe" and Isakov had the venue put the room into complete darkness. The silent reverence offered by the crowd during that song was unforgettable.
Among the other highlights Thursday were "O' City Lights" and "Second Chances." While the show was relatively brief, the crowd was entranced by the songs, and totally into Isakov's charming between-song banter. No matter how dark the subject matter on some songs, there was no denying the joyous vibe in the room among fans who had clearly waited a while to see him in person.
Maybe next time he'll bring the band; I know I'd like to hear the songs taken out of the kitchen and given their full sonic treatment.