Gregory Alan Isakov | Islington Assembly Hall | 3 April 2017
(Photo credit: facebook.com/gregoryalanisakov)
The last time Gregory Alan Isakov played London, all he had was a guitar, harmonica, two microphones, and 30 minutes. Five months later, he’s back with a full band. But, although the addition of guitar, banjo, fiddle, drums, and bass makes for a more powerful, visceral experience, the overall effect is far more intimate.
And that’s not just because the singer-songwriter is playing a smaller venue packed with his own fans, he actively goes out of his way to connect with the audience, encouraging them to shout out requests, sharing anecdotes that give insight into his creative process, and clearly having the time of his life with four – sometimes five – friends up on that stage. “This is seriously the best Monday night I’ve ever had”, he grins at one point, and you can’t help but believe him.
It all begins with a tender solo rendition of ‘She Always Takes It Black’, echoing his one-man-band Passenger support slot, before the rest of the musicians step in to add even more texture, detail, and (where necessary) heft to Isakov’s already nuanced songs.
So ‘Amsterdam’ sounds even more poignant than the recorded version, ‘Big Black Car’ reveals unexpected glimmers of hope, and the gradual build of ‘This Empty Northern Hemisphere’ grows in epic magnificence.
‘The Universe’, performed in near darkness at Isakov’s request, retains its delicate subtlety, the fragile ‘Idaho’ continues the slowly blossoming beauty, and ‘The Stable Song’ gets a rustic makeover that really suits the old favourite.
As Isakov uses the full range of his voice, the musicians sway through the cyclical moods of ‘That Moon Song’, while the sweeping ‘Liars’ is a lesson in creating tension as it climaxes with that impassioned refrain of “Now we’re just liars”. The mass singalong of “Let’s put all these words away” that sends everyone home invigorated is equally triumphant, but the night’s most engaging moments come when the performers huddle around a single microphone.
It’s a looser setup that allows for campfire-style camaraderie and lends a spontaneity (and beautiful vocal harmonising) to the jaunty ‘Saint Valentine’, a rapturously received brand new song, a truly moving duet of Springsteen’s ‘Dry Lightning’ with support act Leif Vollebekk, and a genuinely feel-good, Vollebekk-injected rendition of ‘All Shades Of Blue’ that’s a masterclass in creating authentic intimacy.