Stephen Kellogg and Gregory Alan Isakov took to the road over a week ago, after an eventful set of shows in Glasgow and Bristol, the two prolific songwriters arrived for a sold-out show at Manchester’s Gullivers.
After manoeuvring his way through the crowd, Stephen Kellogg takes to the stage and notes the evening’s hippie vibe, as he nods to sitting spectators. The audience soon warms to the Massachusetts songwriter’s sincere and humble blend of Country and Americana. When singing ‘Satisfied Man’, a song that harks back to his ‘Sixers’ days, an insightful smile spreads across his face: “There’s one thing on earth no man can touch, it’s the sleep of a satisfied man”.
With more than thirteen hundred shows under his belt, it is no wonder he looks so comfortable, as he quips “I like that Manchester shows have the energy of London, without all the bullshit”. Then without hesitation, morphs back into the tender troubadour to perform a wistful rendition of ‘Crosses’ from his 2013 solo record, ‘Blunderstone Rookery’. He goes on to mention the hilarious habit he picked up from touring with Kris Kristofferson; ending a song with an abrupt strum and purring ‘Thank you very much’ in an Elvis like fashion. Kellogg also mentioned how he was finding travelling with the somewhat nonchalant Gregory: “It’s like touring with a Jedi”.
Following his laid bare performance of ‘Noelle’ for his third daughter, he moves into the stirring ten-minute saga that is ‘Thanksgiving’. With its vivid imagery and his harrowing emotional delivery, similar to that of Mississippi’s John Murry, it swells to a towering finale. The audience seem rendered speechless, as the rambling narrator takes his leave.
With the natural presence of both an earthy farm hand and a romantic wordsmith, Isakov adjusts his microphone beneath a grand chandelier. As his soft voice fills the room there are audible gasps of joy, as friends exchange blissful looks. Joined by the tremendously talented Steve Varney, on guitar, banjo and backing vocals, they ease their way through the gentle movements of ‘Amsterdam’ from Isakov’s most recent record, ‘The Weatherman’. Varney’s rich, reverberant guitar tone and the all-consuming beat of Gregory’s stomp box build up into incredible crescendos. The cavernous sound the duo creates is stunning and ‘dynamically’ the shifts throughout the show become enrapturing.
Isakov laughs that it is great to finally visit the city of Manchester, after his previous tour of ‘Hobbit towns’ and after a very polite request he plays ‘O’ City Lights’, a song inspired by Jack Kerouac’s ‘Tristessa’. Its idling, sombre tone drifts through the audience. His cover of Dylan’s ‘Mama You’ve Been On My Mind’ is soft, sweet and resounds with the simple charm of Isakov’s own songwriting; it seems to lend more from Jeff Buckley’s sensuous version than ol’ Zimmerman’s.
‘Living Proof’ evokes pastoral scenes and flitting emotions: “…the dark had wooden teeth, oh we broke up onto hill country… When we were flying free, we were dust from our bodies” Isakov’s innate ability to toy with abstract imagery is fascinating and makes his mellow melodies that bit more absorbing.
Review by: David Weir