One of America’s best folk songwriters test drives some new material mere days before the release of his excellent fifth LP Evening Machines.
Opener: Shook Twins
Katelyn and Laurie Shook are, in fact, identical twins – hence the name of their band. They came out of the Sandpoint area of northern Idaho a few years ago and have gained considerable popularity in the past few years with their beautiful harmonies and extensive mastery of various instrumentation. I had the great pleasure to see them for the first time at Treefort VII when they performed with a backing band. On this evening, it was “just” the duo playing acoustic instruments, which was even more incredible.
From the start, it was clear that these ladies know how to work a crowd almost as well as they can work banjos, guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, and the ever-present telephone distortion mic. They effortlessly told stories and jokes, shared that their mother was in attendance, and even instructed the audience how to clap on the 2 and the 4 for their standout track “Shake” and did so without seeming even a smidge condescending.
Even when they stepped out of their comfort zone for a folky take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, their amazing voices and charisma carried the day. This was a stellar opening set from some local-ish talent capable of carrying their own evening.
Headliner: Gregory Alan Isakov
Never one to front, let’s get one thing straight: I somehow was not aware of Mr. Isakov until about a year ago when a delightful young lady introduced me to him. I have been a fan ever since, for reasons obvious to those already familiar with his body of work. That same super-fan was kind enough to buy me a ticket to accompany her and her pals to the Boise date on his tour as a very thoughtful birthday present. Truly grateful for both the introduction and the chance to attend the show, I am.
No, Gregory was not alone – in fact he had five (!) band members onstage with him. The sound was incredible, and included electric guitar, violin, cello, stand-up bass, and drums. Let there be no doubt that this was Gregory’s show, and all he needed to steal the scene was an acoustic guitar, his lovely yet unassuming voice, and some killer songs.
In a sad yet lovely turn of fate, this concert was initially to be held at The Knitting Factory but was moved to the legendary Egyptian Theater after the former venue suffered a devastating fire in early September. While I love the Knit for rock shows (likely the 3rd best place in Boise to see one), there is not a finer place to take in an evening of mellow and beautiful music then the Egyptian (with a hearty nod to close second Morrison Center). I can safely say that this was one of the greatest shows I have seen at the Egyptian, second only to the Milk Carton Kids set I saw here a few years ago. Playing a venue of this size in front of a room of seated and silent audience members can be daunting, but Gregory and company absolutely nailed it from the very beginning.
After leading off with two tracks from his finest album up to that point, This Empty Northern Hemisphere, the new material came in a wonderful flourish. Five of the next six songs were unreleased tracks from Evening Machines which dropped two weeks after the show. While “Chemicals” and the entrancing “Dark, Dark, Dark” had been released as singles and were thusly familiar, “Was I Just Another One”, “Southern Star”, and “Berth” were heard by all in attendance for the first time. There is something powerful about a lengthy stretch of unknown music being received as incredibly well as this was, and for good reason: these are great songs.
This portion of the show did exactly what artists strive for when touring: getting people excited about their newest art. I had a sneaking suspicion that this new album was going to be his best, and today I would say it definitely is. Oh, and snuck in between the new songs was a lovely rendition of “Idaho” which, of course, was loudly and happily received by the sold-out crowd. Also on the setlist was my favorite, “Liars”, his most popular song “The Stable Song”, and a few tracks that allowed for some solid old-timey jammin’.
Katelyn and Laurie came back out to join Gregory and Co. on a rendition of “Suitcase Full of Sparks” that legit gave me goosebumps, and once the show was done they returned for the final bow – to a much deserved stating ovation. What a night of incredible musical talent, architectural beauty with terrific acoustics, and unbeatable company. If you are not a current fan of Isakov’s, give the link below a listen and hear for yourself a glimpse into the greatness we experienced.
Big Black Car
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
Was I Just Another One
Dark, Dark, Dark
She Always Takes It Black
Time Will Tell
All Shades of Blue
Suitcase Full of Sparks (with Shook Twins)
The Stable Song
Spotify playlist link: