Live review: Gregory Alan Isakov @ King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut

By Alisa Wylie, Music Editor

When Leif Vollebekk takes to the stage and sits down to his keyboard at the front, right-hand side of the stage – you quickly notice that there’s something peculiar in his movements when he plays. His upper limbs jerkily move almost continuously as he makes contact with his instruments. This follows through when he picks up a guitar two songs into his set. When he asks the crowd whether they want him to sing either Elegy or another, the first suggestion is met with so much vigour that I was not able to hear what the other option was.

Vollebekk brings Isakov’s touring violinist, Jeb Bows, to the stage to join him for a song and it adds another element to the already exquisite, if not sometimes humourous to watch, performance. One issue I take however, is with the last song East Of Eden Vollebekk’s in which he compares a woman to a book with the lyrics: “she’s just like a book and I don’t want it to end. Take it with me where I go, turn the pages slow.” The objectification seems to swept under his gravelly, Canadian drawl and his complex guitar picking.

As Gregory Alan Isakov begins to perform, not only the instrumentals but hearts soar. His sound, if you were to sum it up, sounds very much like vulnerability set to strings and percussion. Following a solo performance as the set opener, the rest of band joined him for a beautiful rendition of Amsterdam, a song that recently featured in the introductory sequence of the first episode of the last series of GIRLS. Despite the tying in of his music with the new, his instrumentals harkens to something more nostalgic, it is still polished with a classic, cinematic elegance.  More cuts such as Evelyn, Big Black Car and If I Go, I’m Going from the This Empty Northern Hemisphere are played, much to the crowd’s pleasure.

The stage is adorned simply, and two globe-lamps light up the stage. Next to Isakov, when he makes his first appearance, sits a large double bass that is taller than him and sits alone. For a split second, you would have thought that it is part of the folk set up of already distinctively bohemian inspired decor. Along with this, there is a 50’s style microphone that is placed in front of the second, seated guitarist, Steve Varney.

Isakov’s own mic stand comes as a dual force – with one for the ordinary sounding vocals, and a second that filters it to make it sound as if he is talking through an old radio broadcast. The crowd are enamoured with him – with two separate members of the audience shouting out that he was both a “musical genius” and a “musical wizard”. We are told that the band are currently recording their new album back home in Colorado, and that in that playing the new song for us – we are their guinea pigs. The crowd, of course, are more than alright with this.

Towards the end of the night, the clearly patriotic crowd erupts into a rendition of Loch Lomond following Isakov’s brief lyrical exploration of the song. In those moments, as the band watched in glee as the crowd took hold, it was clear that the night was an all-encompassing, ethereal, and magic.