Written By | Emily Pearson
Do you ever hear a song that feels like getting coffee with an old friend? Some music just has a way of filling you with a warm sense of calm familiarity, even if it’s not a something you’ve heard before. Which is exactly how I felt the first time I listened to Gregory Alan Isakov. From the first time I heard his music, I have wanted to experience him live in concert, so I was thrilled to be covering his sold out show at The Buckhead Theater this past Wednesday.
The Shook Twins, a Portland, Oregon based folk duo and actual identical twins, got the sow off to a fantastic start. Along with their bass player Niko, they formed a trio of multi-instrumentalists that didn’t shy away from showcasing their wide range of musical talent. By the 4th song, Niko took over for Katelyn singing lead. Laurie and Katelyn then introduced the next song as a “post-apocalyptic swing ballad”, and blew the audience away with twins’ flawless harmonies. As the tempo picked up and the audience become more and more engaged, this tune ended with a beatboxing Laurie and the whole room stomping and clapping along.
As their set came to a close, the anticipation for Isakov’s set was apparent, and the crowd in the sold out venue was bustling about. When he finally took the stage, the audience erupted into cheers. He chuckled and thanked the audience for their willingness to cheer for his sad songs. Isakov’s band, which included an upright bass, cello, violin, banjo, and drums, carried the energy of the audience right into the first few songs. “This Empty Northern Hemisphere”, the title track off of his 2009 album, especially featured some breathtaking string melodies.
As the show went on, Gregory’s commentary made you feel almost as if you were sitting in a quaint café, instead of a crowded theater. The sense of closeness was perpetuated by his telling of stories of his songwriting processes. He told the story of how he would buy discount used books, and cut out the words like refrigerator magnets and use them as prompts, which is how the song Southern Star came about. A few songs later, he said he would do part of his set acoustic. This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the show, as he brought everyone in his band to the front of the stage to perform a stripped down version of 2 of his originals. He then played a solo acoustic song, leaving everyone with goosebumps.
The band came back and picked up the pace for the last few songs, which included Gregory’s mom’s favorite song “Caves”, “The Universe” which he played completely in the dark, and “Liars” which ended the set on a very high energy note. Much to the cheering crowd’s great delight, Isakov and his banjo player, Steve Varney, took the stage once more to kick off the encore with a gorgeous acoustic rendition of perhaps his most recognizable tune, “The Stable Song”. The whole audience sang along as if they had been waiting all their lives for that moment. Gregory then invited The Shook Twins back onstage and the trio performed a cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song”. The encore wrapped up when the entirety of both bands gathered around one mic to help Gregory send us off with his song “All Shades of Blue”.
I went to this show with high expectations, and ultimately Gregory Alan Isakov’s performance surpassed all of them. What true, raw talent that can sell out a theater and then make it feel as cozy as a house show. The audience left wanting for nothing, as we had all laugh and cried and sang along to the melodious soundtrack of all our emotions. Gregory will be on tour through the end of March (you can see those dates here!) and if you get the chance to see him, I cannot recommend it enough.