Gregory Alan Isakov at Boettcher Concert Hall, with the Colorado Symphony, 11/8/13

Categories: Concert Reviews

Ken Hamblin III

As he spoke to the massive crowd at Boettcher Concert Hall, you could tell that Gregory Alan Isakov was still getting used to the scope of the venue and the caliber of the musicians he was playing with. "I've been very, very nervous about this show for a long time," said Isakov of performing with the Colorado Symphony. Isakov insisted he was just a guitar player, and the nerves came from playing in front of "some of the most amazing musicians in the world."

See also: Photos: Gregory Alan Isakov and the Colorado Symphony rehearsal at Boettcher Concert Hall

Ken Hamblin III

Happily for Isakov and the thousands in attendance, any of those fears were completely unfounded. The collaborative performance between Isakov and the Colorado Symphony was seamless. Thanks in part to string arrangements penned by DeVotchKa violinist Tom Hagerman, Isakov's folk-rock anthems gained power and depth with the backing of a full classical orchestra.

Ken Hamblin III

And thanks to expert sound mixing and engineering on the part of the house crew at Boettcher, the subtleties of Isakov's voice never got lost in the mix. Through sweeping accompaniment from the orchestra's string, brass and timpani sections, Isakov's understated and earnest vocals never got drowned out. The songwriter's thoughtful lyrics remained at the forefront for the whole show, and that made all the difference. At its heart, this was a pop show, and the performance never took on an overly formal feel.

Ken Hamblin III

Isakov set out that mood with the first tune, a solo version of the ballad "She Always Takes It Black." Dressed simply in a button-up shirt, vest and gray jeans, Isakov emerged under the glare of a single spotlight to thunderous applause from the crowd. Speaking in quiet tones and clipped words, Isakov set out the program for the night. After his first solo tune, Isakov's band joined him for a stirring rendition of "All Shades of Blue." As he switched from guitar to banjo for that tune, the audience got to hear the expansive sound Isakov can make with only a quintet just before the Symphony joined him for a stunning version of "Amsterdam."

Ken Hamblin III

It took only moments for the dozens of Symphony and resident conductor Scott O'Neil to take their positions on the huge Boettcher stage. From there, the players didn't waste any time in exploring all of the musical options. "Amsterdam" featured sweeping string lines and dramatic stretches of percussion from the timpani. The arrangements for "Big Black Car," "This Empty Northern Hemisphere" and "The Stable Song" never felt overly flashy. Isakov's voice and guitar remained the focal point -- the orchestral accompaniment worked with natural pauses and cues in the songs.

Ken Hamblin III

Subtlety was key as the ensemble moved on to versions of "St. Valentine" and "Liars." The big sounds from the Symphony never overtook Isakov's vocal effects on different microphones or the input from the core rock band. Banjo solos from Steve Varney, piano lines from James Han and cello accompaniment by Philip Parker fit in tastefully with backup from entire orchestra sections.

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