Gregory Alan Isakov writes stories, seamlessly interwoven into raw melodies, creating hypnotising and beautifully poetic songs. Hailing from Philadelphia, Isakov’s music is quickly gaining popularity over here, with the success of singles such as ‘Black Car’ and ‘The Stable Song’. However to appreciate the full scope of his repertoire, and talent, you must experience the energy of his live performances. Accompanied by an outstanding group of musicians- a violin, banjo, double bass, drums and an equally talented support act- an uplifting and intimate gig awaited me at King Tut’s.
The show was opened by Canadian singer and songwriter, Leif Vollebekk, a magical discovery, and beautiful opener to the gig. His rhythmic, deep chords played on keyboard accompanied by steady backing beats, juxtaposed with the complexity of his expressive, reverberating vocals. He played as though he was completely alone, contorting his face and body as he moved with his music, stressing each and every note. The emotional energy of this performance pared with the stripped back quality of his melodies, had the audience mesmerized. He played tracks from his latest album Twin Solitude (2017), alongside a cover of a personal favourite of mine- Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’. I particularly enjoyed his opening song ‘Elegy’, which was carried along by a real liveliness, whilst remaining soft and intimate, in its tone. Perhaps it is because I have a personal connection with the setting but ‘Vancouver Time’ also had a breathtaking quality to me- I have been listening on repeat ever since! Vollebekk definitely deserves his own tour with such a distinctive style so here’s hoping he will make it back to Scotland soon.
The standard was set very high for the rest of the gig, but unsurprisingly Isakov and his band did not disappoint. It’s easy to see the influence of Cohen and Dylan, as Isakov consistently ensures that the acoustic guitar and poetic lyrics remain at the forefront of his performance. Donning his signature hat, he began the set by playing a few new songs from his latest album, released in 2016, originally recorded with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Striking tracks were ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘The Unwritable Girl’ which had a wonderful rising quality to them, perfectly set off by all the different instruments on stage, chiming in. It was easy to see, even from within this chorus, that each of the musicians were extremely talented, and luckily throughout the set, they each had the chance to take centre stage. There was variation to the gig as the band moved steadily through the songs as well; from the slow, slightly eerie ‘The Universe’ played in darkness with a single red globe and disco ball on stage, to the well known, lively ‘Stable Song’ which had all audience members singing along. The songs definitely have a new, unique quality when heard on stage. The crowd seemed to agree with this, evident when someone shouted ‘Gregory, you’re a genius!’
The gig took a different turn, when Isakov announced that they were going to embrace “nerdy folk” and cluster closely around an old fashioned, open mic. For me, these up close performances were the highlight of the night, and I loved the live rendition of ‘Saint Valentine’, performed with great gusto. It was even better when Leif came back on stage with a guitar to join Isakov and the band, and looked absolutely ecstatic. The energy between all the musicians was wonderful to see; it was very obvious they weren’t just playing together but were also good pals having fun. They also had a great connection to the crowd; during the gig Isakov announced: “I love Scotland. I lived here for a while” and proceeded to put on a pretty decent Scottish accent. We’ll have you back anytime, Gregory.
By Kirsty Dunlop.