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Review: Gregory Alan Isakov envelops fans in melancholic ballads at Roadrunner

Jake Guldin
Isakov leans into the microphone, while Varney sings behind him. The Roadrunner show was part of his “Appaloosa Bones Tour,” named after his most recent album.

His face shrouded by his signature fedora resting comfortably atop his head, Gregory Alan Isakov brought his often somber, folk-infused tunes to his second performance on Roadrunner’s stage Oct. 22.

The Boulder, Colorado-based singer-songwriter arrived on the heels of his latest album’s release, “Appaloosa Bones.” His first record in five years, it became, arguably, the artist’s most successful endeavor to date after its Aug. 18 debut, garnering generally positive reviews and premiering at No. 81 on the Billboard 200

It comes as no surprise, then, that the show — part of Isakov’s “Appaloosa Bones Tour” — was just as fruitful, entrancing attendees for the better part of two hours with satisfying vocals, pitch-perfect instrumentation and stunning visuals.

Before Isakov’s performance, The Milk Carton Kids, a duo consisting of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, delivered a simplistic yet captivating set. The pair stood firm throughout their performance, not once wavering from the shared microphone positioned center stage. Pattengale and Ryan, for their part, appeared to be well aware of this, making tongue-in-cheek remarks about their lack of movement in between songs.

Fortunately, the sheer talent on display — their harmonies were hypnotizing — was more than enough to maintain the audience’s attention. Moreover, their banter and crowd work made looking away impossible, with Ryan’s response to fans’ enthusiasm over the banjo — “Y’all are cheering a banjo? You know you’re in Boston, right?” — being a major comedic highlight.

After treating concertgoers with a couple of sonically soothing tracks, including one featuring Isakov titled “Michigan,” a song about the pain of leaving a loved one behind for their sake, The Milk Carton Kids departed the stage, profusely thanking and waving to listeners along the way.

Finally, Isakov and his band — consisting of violinist Jeb Bows, drummer Max Barcelow, bassist John Paul Grigsby and multi-instrumentalists Steve Varney and Danny Black — appeared on the fog-covered stage.

The artist began with a rendition of “Before the Sun,” the second single from his newest album, singing, “I’ll go it on my own / I’ll go it on my own / Go it on my own.” Evidently, the banjo-centric tune concerns self-reliance and determination in the face of adversity.

Throughout the song and the remainder of the show, Isakov was more mobile than The Milk Carton Boys. Pacing the stage and approaching his bandmates made for a surprisingly dynamic show given that, in Isakov’s words, “very few happy songs” were played throughout the evening.

However, the show was not comprised exclusively of melodic, stripped-back ballads. Isakov performed a few fast(er)-paced, rock-influenced songs, such as “Liars” from the 2016 album “Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony,” a nostalgia-laced track centered on the struggles of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. 

The lights flickered rapidly, fluctuating between various hues — magenta, maroon, seafoam green — as Isakov and his fellow performers bobbed their heads to the rhythm of the five-minute-long track.

The images projected behind Isakov — during this song and the concert as a whole — further ensnared the audience. From sprawling, seemingly hand-painted mountain ranges to pleasant, moon-bathed homesteads, these breathtaking shots greatly added to the overall experience, as the vast majority of the photos correlated to a specific lyric or broader theme present in Isakov’s work.

Additionally, the crowd’s respectful demeanor and laid-back disposition made appreciating Isakov’s smooth vocals and incisive lyricism an absolute pleasure. Ordinarily, a well-behaved audience would be nothing to commend, but given how disruptive some concertgoers have been as of late, the praise is more than deserved.

However, listeners weren’t idly sitting by, simply allowing the music to wash over them. They all came together and loudly belted to several fan-favorite tracks, such as “Big Black Car” and “Amsterdam.” These songs in particular reached wider audiences thanks to TikTok — the latter, for instance, appeared in over 14,000 videos on the platform.

Attendees’ anticipation and appreciation only grew after the main set, as Isakov, his bandmates and The Milk Carton Kids all triumphantly took to the stage for a three-song encore.

The first, “The Stable Song,” from the 2007 album “That Sea, the Gambler,” was a duet between Isakov and Varney, the latter equipped with a banjo. Reminiscent of the opening act, the pair shared a single microphone, drenched in cool-colored light beams — a simplistic setup in comparison to the one Isakov adopted for the bulk of the show.

This approach was also used for the final two songs, “Silver Bell” and “All Shades of Blue,” culminating in an intimate finale that allowed each performer to shine, as they each had a brief instrumental or vocal solo. As everyone on stage vocalized and strummed along to the final moments of “All Shades of Blue,” they backed away from the sole microphone on stage (yes, eight people managed to fit around it) and took several bows before finally departing Roadrunner’s expertly-lit stage.

About the Contributor
Jake Guldin
Jake Guldin, Audiovisual Editor
Jake Guldin is a third-year media and screen studies and journalism major with a film production minor. He currently serves as the lifestyle editor of The News and, previously, was one of two deputy lifestyle editors and a staff writer. Moreover, he was most recently on co-op with TheStreet's Retirement Daily, writing and editing articles about personal finance. You can follow him @jakeguldin on Twitter — not "X," "Twitter."
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