Review: Gregory Alan Isakov – Voodoo, Belfast

An acoustic guitar, double bass, violin, banjo and Gregory Alan Isakov – is there anything else you need for a Friday night?  Gregory brought his mesmerising vocals and flawless band to Voodoo on Friday and managed to change the venue from a rock haven to a mellow and chilled nirvana.

The night kicked off with Canadian singer/songwriter Leif Vollebeck.  His uncomplicated set with his beautiful lyrics created a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere.  At this stage the venue was nearly full and everyone seemed focused on Vollebeck.  His style is undoubtedly inspired by early Bob Dylan and his stage presence was reminiscent of Dylan’s famous Newport appearance in 1965.  This was reiterated when he opted to use the harmonica in the middle of his set.  Leif was, in my opinion, the perfect start to the set and juxtaposed Isakov’s music perfectly.

Gregory then took to the stage in his signature hat and began his mesmeric set.  From the beginning Isakov was praising the crowd and demonstrating how happy he was to play a sell-out show in Belfast.  Naturally the crowd reacted to this and made him feel incredibly welcome in Voodoo.

After praising the crowd, he went on to play ‘Amsterdam’.  Whilst there were huge cheers after each track, during the song the entire room was in complete silence as they were awe of his individualism.  He went on to play the enthralling ‘Big Black Car’.  His lyrics continued to strike a chord as he sang “You were a miracle, I was just holdin’ your space” and everyone just stood and listened.

The set varied between simplicity with Gregory and his guitar to a full-blown country segment with every musician on stage completely going for it and noticeably having fun whilst doing so.  He went on to change the dynamic of the set as they opted to do a “nerdy folk” segment as Gregory called it.  All musicians on stage crowded around an old school, country-style microphone, and sang/played their hearts out to ‘Saint Valentine’.

He opted to sing ‘The Universe’ entirely in the dark.  This uncomplicatedness juxtaposed with the complex subject matter of the song added the poetic tone we have all come to love from Isakov.

The surprises of the night continued as Leif Vollebeck was brought back on stage to sing a cover with Gregory.  Prior he had stated Bruce Springsteen was one of his all-time favourite artists so it was extra special to hear them both sing ‘Dry Lightning’.  Their voices worked wonderfully together as they did incredible justice to the song.

The set finished on the Bob Dylan-esque ‘Dandelion Wine’.  I was so relieved to hear this played as I thought it had been forgotten amongst the array of tracks.  It was, obviously, flawlessly performed before all musicians took a bow to the crowd.  Was the night over?  Of course, it wasn’t.  After was felt like a minute everyone came back on stage, including Leif, and all stood around the one mic again.  They belted out ‘All Shades of Blue’.  The energy on the stage mirrored the crowd as everyone was singing along.

From Leif Vollebeck to ‘All Shades of Blue’ Gregory Alan Isakov’s sell out show at Voodoo was musical perfection.  His lyrics are nothing short of poetry in its purest form and every single musician that stood on that stage added a new dimension to the show.  Let’s hope that he is back in Belfast sooner rather than later.