Article and photos by: Gary Flink
New York, NY- South African-born, Colorado-based singer-songwriter, Gregory Alan Isakov, brought his incredible music talents to New York City’s Webster Hall on Thursday night accompanied by his longtime band that he calls his “best friends.” Joining them on stage was The Ghost Orchestra, a symphonic ensemble featuring brass and string players, some of whose members are part of the Colorado Symphony, with whom Isakov recorded his latest album, Gregory Alan Isakov With the Colorado Symphony.
Starting the night out and warming the stage first was Mandolin Orange, the Americana duo from North Carolina of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz. With Marlin on mandolin, Frantz on fiddle and each sharing duties on guitar and vocals the two draw easy comparisons to Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Their music, deeply rooted in bluegrass, folk and country, and their obvious on-stage chemistry, quickly got the crowded audience engaged and energized.
Isakov and his band took the stage shortly before 9p. His lighting director, having spotted me and my camera before the show, warned me that he (Isakov) “likes it dark…really dark” so to be prepared to shoot photos with very low light. Not an atypical situation for most concerts and something every concert photographer is used to, so I didn’t think too much about it… until the show started and I realized he really wasn’t kidding. Having almost no stage lighting at all helped to easily set the mood for Isakov’s typically tranquil songs and his somber ethereal vocals, but is a photography nightmare. The dark stage though certainly helps to paint the pictures and vividly tell the stories within the songs that make up much of Isakov’s musical library, as does the reverb enhanced microphone, which mimics AM-radio distortion, that he pairs alongside a standard mic and frequently sings through. One song of the night, “The Universe,” was even performed on a pitch-black stage with no lighting at all, and the silent reverence and focused attention from the crowd was one of the night’s most touching and memorable moments.
The Ghost Orchestra joined Isakov and his band on stage after the 2nd song of the night and spent the remainder of the evening there, accompanying them as they moved through the night’s set list, which included songs from his entire catalogue of previously released albums. Most of Isakov’s songs are about travelling, life on the move and a fleeting sense of togetherness…poetic lyrics about nomadic wisdom and the search to find home and a place in the world to fit in. The Ghost Orchestra provided color and texture that helped to enrich the music and shape the night, yet all of the songs that Isakov offered remained raw and intimate. All in all it made for an incredibly special night.