Review: Gregory Alan Isakov warms a snowy night at Warsaw

Lief Vollebekk, left, and Gregory Alan Isakov perform a joint encore

Gregory Alan Isakov hails from Colorado; his opener Lief Vollebekk is French-Canadian. Throw them in a Brooklyn venue and you’ve got enough flannel and beards to open up an urban farm.

All in jest, this is not to downplay the authenticity of Isakov’s musicianship — his agrarian melodies feel borrowed from the earth as his poetic lyrics are caught from the wind. His folksy, bluer songs felt particularly powerful last night; it’s hard to not hear the lyric “The Universe, she’s wounded / but she’s still got infinity ahead of her” and not consider the onslaught of bad news that’s swept our country in the past few weeks. Still, many of his songs warmed instead of numbed, a necessary touch at Warsaw (261 Driggs Avenue) where audiences huddled and remained buttoned up from the unseasonably wintry evening.

But if audiences stayed bundled, Isakov laid his soul bare. While Vollebekk made for a hospitable and charming opener, cracking jokes and beguiling listeners, Isakov, per usual, had a more reserved presence and let his glorious hymns speak for him. In front of his celestial backdrop, he seemed a divine figure sent down to meet the human race halfway — not in the sky or on the ground, but ever so slightly elevated. In other words, Isakov does not demand but deserves his place on the stage, standing a few feet above his receptive crowd.

And with his recently released album “Evening Machines,” Isakov has a whole new treasure chest to work with — and he does so admirably. New songs like “San Luis” and “Chemicals” were crowdpleasers while old favorites — “Big Black Car,” “Amsterdam,” and “This Empty Northern Hemisphere” — equally delighted. (“Dandelion Wine” received quite the ovation, perhaps because of the local wine shop of the same name?)

Unfortunately, some of Isakov’s lyrics were a little hard to decipher given Warsaw’s cavernous venue and a powerful quintet of instrumentalists backing up Isakov. The bigger letdown was that hits like “St. Valentine” and “The Stable Song” did not factor into the set (or encore), but what a good problem to have where these old loves must make room for the new songs Isakov has so beautifully crafted.

Isakov silhouetted at Warsaw

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Indiewire, HowlRound, Eclectica Magazine, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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