The capacity crowd that filled the Gothic Theatre to busting on Friday night had no problem staying calm for three hours, for the co-headlining show of Nathaniel Rateliff and Gregory Alan Isakov. The audience remained rapt for the entire show, despite the fact there was little room to move anywhere on the floor, in aisles or on the balcony.
Their attentiveness had everything to do with quality and intensity of the music coming from the stage. At times, Friday's showcase of native talent had the feel of a chamber concert. Some chattered while Danielle Ate the Sandwich played, some couples slow danced as Gregory Alan Isakov performed and scattered fans hollered during the quieter moments of Nathaniel Rateliff's set.
For the most part, however, all three acts commanded the collective attention of the crowd. Indeed, the atmosphere seemed reverential; the audience offered their homegrown musical heavyweights their full respect and unfiltered attention.
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That being said, it took a few songs for Danielle Ate the Sandwich to win the full attention of the audience. Danielle Anderson showed her consummate skill at flipping between earnestness and playfulness, offering heartfelt vocals and ukulele lines right before breaking into poop jokes between tunes. As the floor and the balcony filled up with people, Anderson had to struggle to win over the growing crowd during renditions of "Silver and Gold" and "The First Taste," songs with slow cadences and understated feels. With the help of bassist Dennis Bigelow on stand-up bass and Chris Jusell on the violin, Anderson won the crowd's full attention through sheer persistence. She drew on her big guns, pulling out her cover of TLC's "Waterfalls" before jumping into the jaunty tune "El Paso," high energy numbers that seemed to stop the chatter. By the time Gregory Alan Isakov took the stage, the crowd had packed close to the stage, they'd filled the wings and crowded the balcony. A projected black-and-white image of a man facing an over-sized cone came up onstage just before Isakov and his quintet emerged from backstage. Isakov's hour-plus set included an impressive array of folk textures and Americana-inspired cues. Isakov's loosely strummed minor chords and his gruff voice recalled the old and new of the genres; the band's loping rhythms recalled Highway 61-era Bob Dylan just as Isakov's earnest delivery during tunes like "Mercury" recalled early Springsteen. At certain moments during songs like "Empty Northern Hemisphere," the discernible roots went deeper, as echoes of Woody Guthrie's no-nonsense lyricism and directness emerged in Isakov's style.
The basic musical structure of Isakov's tunes, along with the band's three-part harmonies, would serve as a fitting preview for the final act of the evening. Listening to Isakov and Nathaniel Rateliff play back-to-back highlighted the artists' similarities -- both showed a similar knack for dense guitar chords, the driving rhythms and the vocal earnestness. But while Isakov's live selections hinted at influences from the history of folk music, Rateliff's set list revealed his own history in the local scene.
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Rateliff emerged with upright bass player Julie Davis, pianist James Han, guitarist Joseph Pope III and drummer Ben DeSoto. The band jumped right into some of its most emotionally resonant and compelling tunes, offering up a particularly arresting version of "Brakeman." The song's crazed rhythmic drive, its sparse textures and emotional crescendos proved one of the highlights of the band's set. Along with tunes from his most recent release, In Memory of Loss, Rateliff included much older gems. During a brief solo stint on the piano, for example, he offered a bare bones version of Born In the Flood's "Hey." As a final encore, he offered a heartfelt and stirring solo on the acoustic guitar, playing an older solo song that showed off all of his vocal prowess.
After a series of other encores -- both with the band and on his own -- the final, acoustic balled served as an ideal cap for the show. It had the feel of a familiar friend bowing out for the night after recounting favorite anecdotes and sharing well loved stories. Along with the previous performances from Isakov and Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Rateliff's closing artistic statement had an undeniably local tinge to it, the feel of a message tailored specifically for one's hometown.
The audience seemed to have no problems picking up on the subtle message.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal bias: Rateliff's brief rendition of "Hey" brought back fond memories of Born In the Flood shows from years past. Random detail: Isakov recalled how the idea for the all-local show came together. The local bands ran into each other at an unnamed gas station in the Midwest -- playing a show together in their backyard seemed a perfect idea. Random detail: Isakov uses two microphones onstage. One transmits his voice purely, without alteration; the other adds distortion, and looks like a mic straight from a radio studio in the 1940s.