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LIVE REVIEW: Gregory Alan Isakov + Leif Vollebekk at Islington Assembly Hall

Islington is emblematic of what life is like inside the gentrified bubble of London. Despite invoking yuppie dreams of flashy restaurants, cocktail bars and boutique shopping, Islington is still a hub for music that is vibrant and embracing of all different styles and creeds. Since re-opening in 2010, Islington Assembly Hall has played host to some of the most exciting talent in the music world right now. From Rock, Afrobeat and Rap to the roots of Folk, IAH is a wonderful mid-sized venue, that couldn’t feel more perfect for Gregory Alan Isakov to bring his European tour to close.

Opening for Isakov tonight as he has done throughout the tour is Montreal native, Leif Vollebekk. Performing solo, Vollebekk conveys a lot of emotion in his performance with every strum of his guitar, hit of a key, and tap of the foot you can feel his passion. Set up with an organ, a synth and a jangly reverby guitar, the set is more stripped back than on his recordings, which makes it all the more melancholy. Don’t fret, it’s not as gloomy as you think, there’s an almost ethereal uplift to his set as though he is channelling a higher plane of existence, a higher plane of sadness. ‘Elegy’ stands out as a focal point for the set and encapsulates Vollebekk’s sound perfectly, so delicate and pretty, yet skittish and restless around the edges, encouraged further by his wild gyration behind the microphone.

Leif Vollebekk’s new album ‘Twin Solitude’ is out now via Secret City Records.

Gregory Alan Isakov takes to the stage unaccompanied, only a blue light outlining his figure in a silhouette. Opening with ‘Monsters’, a bold move but one that’s worked in his favour, is a solemn start to the set. The band joins Isakov, looking fresh from the metaphorical seas in which this tour has led them. There’s a sense in the air, that something special is happening tonight, something worth writing home about. Despite the jovial banter between Isakov and the crowd, you can feel the tribulations of the musicians standing behind him that the tour is almost over. It brings a sombre, almost mournful dynamic to the performance which is magical.

At various points throughout the set, Isakov grabs a microphone and the band all crowd around him for moments of truly unplugged genius. The harmonies provided by the band soar through the air, pouring Isakov’s already dazzling vocal with an earthy, smooth layer of syrupy goodness. One can only visualise a camp fire in the middle of a desert, the only light for miles upon miles around it. Vollebekk joins them onstage in some of these moments and it makes for an epic poetic collaboration.

Rounding off the set with the not yet released ‘Caves’ is perfect. From the rhythmic stabs of the guitar parts to the ridiculously catchy refrain, its intense yet climaxes perfectly for a huge pay-off. Despite not being released, everyone (and I mean everyone) in the hall tonight is singing: ‘Let’s put all these words away,’ as Isakov gets drowned out by the soft mirroring of his vocal. In a way, it’s the perfect sentiment for this gig, in truth words can only say so much.

Gregory Alan Isakov’s latest album ‘Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony’ is available now on Suitcase Town Music.

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