A Wider Stage to Stand On
After Nathaniel Rateliff worked through a solid set of “many uplifting songs” presented by a big ol’ voice he wasn’t afraid to use, Gregory Alan Isakov and company took to the stage, swallowing the whole room up in their gorgeous sound. As evidenced in the lull and build of “Amsterdam,” Isakov knows how to craft dynamic pieces that aren’t jarring. Though his voice often got lost in the fuller mix of “This Empty Northern Hemisphere,” the more even-keeled “O’ City Lights” gave it a softer bed to lie in, a wider stage to stand on.
Between the ever-popular “That Moon Song” (sorely missing Brandi Carlile’s sweet harmony) and a captivating take on “The Universe,” Isakov joked about wanting to do a tour of planetariums, playing his songs in complete darkness. Indeed, as they rendered the latter with the stage lights off, closed eyes helped the tune sink in that much deeper. A couple songs later, the guys gathered around a single mic for a banjo-laden “Saint Valentine” which Isakov introduced by saying, “This is a love song. There’s some cursing in it.” He pared (paired?) things down to a duo for “The Stable Song” before going solo on “She Always Takes It Back,” a quintessential Isakov cut.
With Isakov still solo on his acoustic, he summoned his five fellas, including Rateliff, to the mic for the “doo-wop moment” he’d always dreamed of on “Honey, It’s Alright.” Heading back to their respective instruments — Jeb Bows on violin, Phil Parker on cello, Steve Varney on electric guitar and banjo, and Jamie Mefford on drums — the group headed into “Big Black Car” which started out gently enough, before the kick drum came in and pushed everything forward into a fiddle run that handed off to the cello. It was a much bolder presentation than the album version. Isakov then said, “We’ll leave you with this one… slow and weird.” With a bellowing cello and booming drums, “Liars” drove it all the way home then dropped us ever so tenderly off at our destination. But he didn’t actually leave us there. It was the soft sway and crash of “Dandelion Wine” that closed the set before an encore that included both Rateliff and Leonard Cohen’s “Passing Through.”
At some point during the set, Isakov noted that Nashville is a “scary town to play music in because everyone’s songs are better than yours.” Not so, dear sir. Not so at all.