Looking at the queue outside Islington’s Assembly Hall, it would’ve be hard to guess what kind of event was being hosted on this sunny spring evening. There was no definitive age group or demographic in attendance, but the show they were there to see was the final date of Gregory Alan Isakov’s European tour, much of which saw Canadian singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk in support.
Vollebekk started his set on an electric piano, before moving onto an acoustic guitar and then electric, and with each instrument he displayed a proficiency and comfort that allowed him to become lost in his own music. The simplicity of the setup gave his music a very raw and natural sound; there were no bells or whistles and nothing to hide behind. Just well-crafted indie folk songs reminiscent of Loudon Wainwright III mixed with a bit of Ben Howard.
After a short break came Gregory Alan Isakov, starting things off with just him and an acoustic guitar before inviting his band onto the stage. It very soon became clear how humbled Isakov was to be playing this sold out show, thanking the crowd and commenting on how he he thinks that “English people sound like wizards (in a good way!”).
The whole performance had a very casual feel to it, more as if you were watching a playalong between friends than a rehearsed show, and it only helped to emphasise the heartfelt content of Gregory Alan Isakov’s music. Before playing one of his most popular songs ‘The Universe’ Isokov requested that all the lights in the venue be turned off, mentioning that it’s a song that was made to be listened to in the dark.
Nothing gave the event a more homely feeling than when the band crowded around a single microphone to present a new song to the audience. Given that this was a track that might not even make the cut and appear on an album, it was very appropriate to hear it in this unpolished state as a ‘live demo’. And, considering that audiences don’t always respond greatly to new music that they’ve never heard, it gave the new material an extra layer of charm.
As the set was starting to draw to a close, Leif Vollebekk was invited back onto the stage to join Isakov in a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dry Lightning’, again sharing just the one microphone. It’s of no surprise that the two have come to know each other well throughout the tour, and the comfort with which they presented this song hinted that they had spent many hours jamming on the tour bus.
Everything about the night’s performance suggested that you were watching a band whose sole reason for playing was that they thoroughly enjoyed doing it. The atmosphere dispelled the boundaries between the artists and the crowd and if you were to close your eyes, you could almost believe that you were with the band back in America, spending an evening just sitting around in someone’s front room and playing music together.
Photos by Dan Hess.