Seeing Gregory Alan Isakov perform live is a sight to behold. Known for his soft, mellifluous crooning, poetic lyrics, and acoustic finger picking, Isakov crafts a performance so full of nostalgia and beauty, you might forget what decade you’re in (until you glance over to see a handful of 20-somethings snapping photos of the show on their iPhones).
I saw Isakov for the first time at the Fox Theater in Oakland in 2016, where he played with the Magik*Magik Orchestra following the release of his album, Gregory Alan Isakov and the Colorado Symphony. This time around, he’s on tour with a full band, sans orchestral accompaniment, and he played at McNear’s Mystic Theatre in the appropriately quaint, somewhat rural town of Petaluma.
With a musical career that now spans over a decade, Isakov certainly knows what he’s doing on stage and how to craft a beautiful visual and vocal performance. Under warm lights that cascaded across the stage like a yellowing Polaroid, and with light-up vintage globes placed just so in the background, Isakov began the show solo, using just his voice and an acoustic guitar to entertain the crowd. The full band then joined Isakov and started playing “Amsterdam,” adding stomping rhythms and lush strings to his soft, melancholy vocals.
For two numbers — “St. Valentine” and “Nicotine” — the entire band gathered around a single vintage microphone at the front of the stage to sing and strum in unison in what Isakov described as a “nerdy, folksy moment.” And it was true: Watching them all I felt whisked away to some ambiguous town hall concert in the past.
The most enchanting part of the night was when Isakov suddenly asked, “Is there any way we can play this next one in the dark?” The lights slowly faded to black, and the band then played “The Universe.” We couldn’t see the plucking of strings or the tapping of feet on stage, but we sure could hear it because the sensory deprivation allowed for complete focus on the sounds being created. The crowd was completely silent, and it was a truly magical, not to mention rare, moment.
Only a couple of new songs were played the entire night, and the rest were pieces from previous albums. New material is great to experience live, but there’s something to be said about being able to recognize a song when it is played. In this show’s case, it added to the familiarity and warmth Isakov and his band exuded the whole night.
The show ended with “Master and a Hound,” which Isakov described as his “most California song.” As everyone mingled and walked out of McNear’s in a daze, it was clear the artist had certainly charmed the socks off of this California crowd.
“This Empty Northern Hemisphere”
“Big Black Car”
“Buried in the Waves”
“The Stable Song”
“Too Far Away”
“That Moon Song”
“Master and a Hound”