4/13/15 – The Sinclair

I’ve never seen a crowd fall silent the way it did for Gregory Alan Isakov. People pressed in closer when he took the stage on Monday night, but for once they didn’t jostle each other. The atmosphere was respectful, almost reverent—it was as if he had placed a monopoly on the sound in the room. Audience members closed their eyes, mirroring the closed eyes of Isakov’s bandmates. Isakov himself had his eyes turned upwards, as if searching for the answers to the questions posed in his lyrical ramblings.

Listening to Isakov’s voice on record is like taking a lavender bath in a log cabin with a glass of wine in hand. You just want to sink into his sound. Live, he’s electrifying. While the recorded tracks are balanced—giving equal weight to the drums, bass, guitar, and vocals—onstage, Isakov’s vocals challenged everything.

Amsterdam” is a perfect example. On the record, Isakov’s ethereal voice blends in with the instrumentation. Everything merges and flows, working to lift you to another dimension. Live at the Sinclair, while the drum beat pounded in direct competition with the cello’s bassline, Isakov ripped through the wall of sound:

“Churches and trains / They all look the same to me now / They shoot you some place / While we ache to come home somehow”

His poignant longing vibrated throughout the room, creating tension that exploded with the song’s climax. When the last note faded away, his lips brushed the microphone as he whispered, “Thanks.”

Isakov referred to the musicians accompanying him as “his best friends.” The appropriately named Jeb Bows broke more than a few bow hairs as he tore through solos on his violin. Philip Parker provided a bass line on the cello, but broke away at times to join Jeb or pull at our heartstrings with solos of his own. Multi-instrumentalist Steve Varney switched seamlessly between guitar and banjo.

Isakov kept the stage dimly lit during the performance, and at one point he asked that the lights be turned off completely. The darkness fit well with his love of sad songs. Still, he kept a shy sense of humor, giving a nostalgic anecdote about a past show with the Seattle Symphony:

“This is the most un-Buddhist thing ever, but we were like, fuck, what are we going to do tomorrow? How will it get better than this?”

He soothed us with a stripped-down rendition of his hit “The Stable Song,” accompanied only by Varney on banjo. Although lacking the grandeur of the full band, the simple setup was appropriately intimate for a song whose bittersweet lyrics would have been a shame to distract from.

To close the show, Isakov brought the band back on stage for “All Shades of Blue.” Everyone crowded around a few microphones to sing, a final tribute to the companionship of the group. Although the bouncy, triple-meter melody lacked some of the magic of his other work, it broke the hypnosis. Shaking cobwebs of wanderlust from our thoughts, we stepped out into the warm Boston night with almost clear heads.

The Best Monday Night You'll Ever Have: Gregory Alan Isakov
Pros
  • Creative lyrics
  • Strong vocals
  • Ethereal ambiance
Cons
  • Some long silences between songs
  • Not enough full band numbers
9Hypnotic

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