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With twin cities folks routinely checking their phones to weather apps declaring it to be -15, it was about time that an artist rolled around whose entire modus operandi is comforting, intimate songs to warm the heart. Gregory Alan Isakov’s music is like reconnecting with an old friend you haven’t seen in the longest time and picking up right where you left off - personal and reminiscent and delicate, always welcome and always pleasant. Isakov’s winter tour - just him and his backing band, no opening support - rolled into the Palace Theatre in Saint Paul last Friday evening, bringing along with them just the shot in the arm that the frozen folks around here needed to get them through one intense winter. Isakov’s scaled down yet powerful shows certainly preceded him - despite it registering as a solid -5 outside, the door folks could barely keep up with all the people showing up to grab a good spot.

With no one opening for them, the band wasted no time getting into the swing of things. Isakov and co. opened with "San Luis”, a cut off their 2018 album Evening Machines, one of the band’s more popular cuts and one that set the tone for the evening immediately. Gently strummed guitars feed directly into Isakov’s trademark croon, simultaneously a bit slurred and perfectly clear. That song is the perfect entry into the rest of Isakov’s discography, as they flowed across their back catalog with quite a few songs off of This Empty Northern Hemisphere, like “Big Black Car” and “If I Go, I’m Goin”. While his sound has changed a fair amount of the years, that same element of music to bring you closer to the ones around you has never left his music, which made the night flow along seamlessly, as if every song had come from the same album. The feeling of attending a concert bleeds into the background and you can imagine yourself gathered around a woodfire in the remote wilderness, Isakov’s vocals fading into the vacant skies as the embers burn low - it’s a transportive experience to say the least.

Isakov and his backing band gathered together on the microphone for their final two songs - as they have done one every stop this tour. They closed the night out with a pared back, stark rendition of “Dandelion Wine” and “Saint Valentine”, leaving those in attendance far better off than when the doors had opened earlier that night and let the bare chill in.

Joseph Dunst

Photojournalist - Minneapolis  

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