Gregory Alan Isakov, Elenor, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Andy Thomas Bluebird Theater October 17, 2009 Better Than: A full tank of gas and the lonely, open road before you.
A local artist sold out the Bluebird for his vinyl release show, which is impressive. This probably says more about the loyalty of Denver's music fans than Isakov's special day, but it's obviously a little bit of both. Isakov put on a damn impressive show. He and his band will make you feel like you're in a woodland cabin with a mug of hot chocolate, a snowstorm outside and your special someone at your side. But come on -- a vinyl release? Is that actually an event?
Andy Thomas gave us the taste for music with a good opening set. He writes for this here publication, which is obviously a conflict of interest, so suffice it to say he knows a good contrast when he sees one and has a welcoming on-stage demeanor.
Loveland's finest ukulele wielder followed him. Danielle Ate the Sandwich gets more confident with each progressive show and on this night she took an uncharacteristically large stage and kicked the crap out of it. She got a little reverb from the Bluebird's sound guy and it suited her, mostly. An extra moment of that voice is a good thing on any day, but it got to be a bit much on the quieter stuff. Oh well -- "On The Planet Earth" continues to melt us under all circumstances and it was better on Saturday than we've ever heard it before. Dennis the bass player isn't a tenth the stage presence of Danielle, but that's okay, too. Still, it would be nice to hear a little of her deadpan creep into his responses to her absurd queries (this time: "What about you, Dennis? What celebrity would you most like to meet?")
What is Denver's characteristic sound. Does it sound insincere to say there's too rich a scene in this town to pick one? Yes? Okay, let's go with Eleanor, then. The outfit's got the string section and the large cast and the "aww shucks we love the shit out of all you guys" 'tude. All right, and the folk sound to go with it. The band's also got a bombshell up front in an "I know how hot I am" dress and the almost painfully earnest dude taking lead vocals with piano and guitar and ukulele, playing the soundtrack to awkward love's first movements and, just as readily, the quiet stages of post-relationship grief. It's all incredibly theatrical, wailing vowels and some crap about what you mean to me, but it's also really awesome. Eleanor's a band that won't hurt you -- it just wants to be there when you fall.
But this was Isakov's night. Do you know the website Wordle? It takes a bunch of text and makes the words appear larger the greater their frequency. It's a lot of fun. And Isakov's lyrics might come out of Wordle as a giant mess of folk hero nouns. Gasoline and campfire and road and me and you and time. He's a classic - nothing new here. Just wonderful, heart-wrenching folk, the sort of stuff you sway to and get high to and live your life to. It's really wonderful. His band is full of people who won't hog the spotlight but can handle it when they're given the chance.
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His voice is (ready for it? Requisite Gregory Alan Isakov adjective upcoming!) so lush you just want to fall away from the world when he sings. He switches it into that old-radio mike, and it's the comfort of pictures on your grandparents' walls, and he goes back to the normal mike, and it's a blanket of wool and the clear night sky. Again: it's been done before. The great thing about folk music is that it has absolutely no requirement of innovation. It's his stories and our stories and that's plenty to justify a sold-out vinyl release show. Only complaint is this: We can't afford your $15 CDs, Isakov, and certainly not the $20 vinyl.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: I've been on a folk kick lately, so this was well timed. But still, not much bias, really. Random Detail: Not that this isn't said all the time by Westword, but Denver has a shockingly awesome music scene. Seriously, people, it's almost unreal how high the ratio of good bands to bad bands is in this city. By the way: Don't park on the street behind the Bluebird. Because it's resident-only parking, apparently. Must be the tenth time I've come to the venue and parked there, but hey: Got to deal with that deficit somehow, city of Denver. Might as well be at the expense of filthy rich (right) freelance writers driving 1990 Geo Prizms.