XPN Fest Recap: Gregory Alan Isakov creates an atmosphere around captivated audience

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Gregory Alan Isakov | photo by Makena Duffy for WXPN

Gregory Alan Isakov and his band didn’t just play their songs at XPN Fest; they created an atmosphere with their music — an entire feeling that grew stronger the closer you came to the Marina Stage. Standing right up front, it was as if I was in the center of their world, and I think the rest of the devoted GAI fans surrounding me felt the same.

Each member of the Coloradan six-piece seamlessly adapted several times throughout the set to alter the sound of their instrument. This made for not only a variety of sounds, but a very interesting visual display as well. For example, Steve Varney switched from electric guitar, to acoustic guitar, to banjo. Bassist John Grigsby switched from upright to electric, and drummer Max Barcelow switched from mallets to brushes to sticks. They are very in tune with the sounds they produce, knowing exactly what will fit in each specific moment — knowing exactly how to create that aforementioned atmosphere.

Many of my favorite moments of this set included Barcelow working magic on the drums. Whether it was his heart-thumping mallets strikes on the introductory “Southern Star” or his brushes sliding around the edge of his cymbals on “Amsterdam”, he carried each song with rhythmic grace.

That being said, the pièce de résistance of Gregory Alan Isakov and his band was when they scrunched their noses, furrowed their brow, sweat heavily through their blue and black denim shirts, and got down to business. The hairs of violinist Jeb Bow’s bow were furiously breaking as all of GAI poured their heart, soul, and everything else within them into songs like “Empty Northern Hemisphere” and “Liars”

Isakov couldn’t stop thanking the crowd for listening. He introduced his band as his “best friends,” encouraging a round of applause for each member. It was clear from their presence that the band is wholesome and down to earth, just like their music. If you’re unfamiliar with the group, you should change that immediately. Check out their latest album Evening Machines, and keep your eyes pealed for whatever they create next.

Setlist
Southern Star
Dark Dark Dark
Empty Northern Hemisphere
Chemicals
Amsterdam
San Louis
Buried in the Waves
Liars
All Shades of Blue

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