The Scene: A sold-out crowd wrapped around the corner of 14th & Spruce in anticipation of hometown hero Gregory Alan Isakov’s CD Release show at Boulder Theater. After years of waiting patiently for the follow up to 2009 masterpiece This Empty Northern Hemisphere, the day had finally arrived. Though the album was released nearly a month earlier, this show was its christening. Just a short fifteen minutes after doors had opened the venue had filled in and the room was awash with a positive buzz.
Opener: Sera Cahoone. Sub Pop Folk-Country singer-songwriter Sera Cahoone walked out to a sea of faces bearing only an acoustic guitar. Sera, a Colorado native from nearby Littleton, plays a brand of music that sits well with Isakov’s fan base. A similar distance in her voice conjures the same misty scenes as Isakov’s. Sunday night’s set was devoid of pedal steel and brushed drums, leaving the focus squarely on her husky, distant, and gorgeous vocals. The commotion of the bar and anxious patrons was quickly won over with songs like “Deer Creek Canyon” and a beautiful “Worry All Your Life.”
Gregory Alan Isakov: Gregory Alan Isakov’s latest album, The Weatherman, comes four long years after his last release. After the show Gregory shared that the long delay came as a result of creating another album that he eventually decided to shelve. I’ve never anticipated an album to the degree I’ve waited for The Weatherman and the album delivered. Recorded in Nederland, it’s a sparsely tracked gem, complete with the Gregory’s rich imagery and dusty vocals.
The show began with the spacious “She Always Takes It Back,” the last track of the new album, as a room full of eyes transfixed themselves on the Isakov and the familiar faces of his band – Jeb Bows on violin, Jen Gilleran on drums, Philip Parker on cello, and the replacement of Ramaya Soskin with Steve Varney on electric guitar and banjo.
The evening was a great mix of old and new. Gregory joked “We’ve been trying these out on you for years,” which is certainly the case for songs like “Amsterdam” and “The Universe” – both of which made an appearance during Sunday’s show and are featured on the new album. Gregory and the band gathered around a single large diaphragm mic from time-to-time throughout the night and it was during these moments that the true magic occurred. The wonderfully catchy “Suitcase Full of Sparks” was the first in a series of songs played this way. The joy in the faces of the band singing and playing into the mic was contagious. Gregory mentioned that seeing Gillian Welch do the same on the same stage years earlier inspired him to do the same.
Local allstar Julie Davis joined Greg on stage on a number of songs to lend backup vocals. “Time Will Tell” was a high-water mark of the evening, proving the new material could translate to the stage. Gregory playfully faced Jeb Bows throughout the set as Bows and Parker filled out each song with strings, painting the scenery in which Isakov’s whispers and moans tell his tales. Gregory’s use of a second harmonica mic for vocals was completely fitting through the night, sounding as though he was radioing in from the great beyond on “The Universe.”
With the tip of his conductor’s hat, Gregory left the stage leaving us hungry. He returned to play “Living Proof” gathered around a single mic and a stirring “If I Go, I’m Goin’” with Julie Davis. While the night was missing favorites like “Dandelion Wine” and “Big Black Car,” the show was one of the best performances I’ve seen from Isakov in the fifteen or so times I’ve seen him perform. I guess with three albums of “favorites” there’s just not enough time in a night.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: B-