Helen Forster, Nick’s wife and fellow eTown emcee, filled in for Brandi Carlile nicely on Isakov’s beautiful “That Moon Song,” and eTown’s house-band (the eTones) did a great job behind Isakov after the local sensation played some solo acoustic numbers.
With the support of Carlile and Ani DiFranco, Isakov has had great luck touring the country as a warm-up act for female folk-pop singer-songwriters, but what he’s cultivating beyond an adoring hometown crowd and the praise of The Indigo Girls is yet to be seen. In the context of the larger musical world, young Isakov’s “personal, sweet songs of longing” (to quote Forster) aren’t quite on the level of, say, The Fleet Foxes, or any number of melancholy singer-songwriters in more dense music scenes like Austin or San Francisco. He’s always shaking his jaw; he’s always closing his eyes and moaning softly; he always seems right at the edge of literally bursting into tears when singing myopic turns of phrase such as “my coat smells like a café” and “broken hearted lovers, they got nothin’ on me.” Isakov is clearly talented, but that sort of melodrama is sometimes tough to watch, and the conjoined hyperbolic local media praise (like “Isakov’s voice is so lush you just want to fall away from the world when he sings”) is hard to read.
Strangest of all, Isakov’s curious on-stage persona seems more depressed and precious as he gets more successful. Coming out of a small town where support is so clear and there isn’t the vast and hard-edged competition Isakov would see in many other musical communities, the young singer-songwriter has an excellent chance to use his current surge of encouragement to evolve and grow stronger and more unique as an artist rather than remain enjoyably derivative and find a plateau. Shining, if only occasionally, in front of a sold-out Boulder Theater as part of an internationally celebrated program like eTown is a pretty good sign Isakov hasn’t peaked, and that’s exciting.