Category Archives: Concerts

Animal Collective + Circuit des Yeux 5/24/17, Northampton MA

Dates: May 24, 2017

Location: Calvin Theater, Northampton, Mass.

The location was the Calvin Theater in Northampton; the reaction was pure euphoria, an all-body experience. Scroll down to view the photo gallery.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JENNIFER KELLY

Since its early aughts emergence, Animal Collective has spliced campfire songs with club beats. They’re one of the few bands to have been counted, loosely, approximately and simultaneously in both the freak folk and the noise-dance-Black-Dice-ish camps, though neither designation ever fit very well. Lately, though, the beat-driven, rave-y side of them has predominated. Records like last year’s Painting With and the subsequent EP The Painters have had less of the soaring and lyrical, more of the thudding programmed rhythms, and the current live show, which leans heavily on these two releases, is likewise trance-y and electronic. If your favorite Animal Collective thing ever was Sung Tongs (or perhaps the EP with Vashti Bunyan), this would NOT be your show.

And yet, for the crowd of kids packed around the stage — a couple of them dressed in pajama-like animal costumes — the current iteration was a powerful euphoric. In the first couple of rows, the pounding beats surged up from the floor like an electric current, the sing-song-y lyrics lifted animal (sorry) spirits up to the rafters, and the elaborate onstage art, flashed and pulsed in time, an all-body experience if there ever was one.

The night opened with Haley Fohr’s Circuit des Yeux, a stark, spare version of her extreme vocal art, accompanied by 12-string, loops and lots of pedals. She is thin and spry and a little gawky, an excellent picker in the American primitive tradition, but the really surprising thing about her, every time, is how deep and powerful her voice is. She seems, since the last time I saw her, to have settled more comfortably into live performance, no longer hiding behind hair and a trucker’s hat, but taking up a center position and letting loose with her velvety contralto. She can hold a note for two or three measures, the tone absolutely clear and pummeling and far from drifting off, actually crescendoing as she goes.

I hadn’t realized, up to this point, how good of a guitar player she was either. She sounds at times like Jack Rose in a particularly lyrical “Crossing North Forks” frame of mine, at others like mystical Basho, at still others plays with a bossa nova lilt in her lines. The set culminates in a long, multi-part “Story of this World,” a song which appears on 2015’s In Plain Speech, but which here is blown out into a folk-rock-psych odyssey, moving from pretty folk to thunderous guitar feedback and back again. Extraordinary set.

***

Animal Collective follows, with Panda Bear, Geologist and Avey Tare set up on consoles and a drummer on kit in the back. It is, possibly, because so much of their work is three guys twiddling knobs that the stage show is so critical and elaborate. Three grey statues flank the stage, crossing Easter Island monumentality with a line-drawn whimsy: they are, left to right, a woman in a bow-tie, a dog with a party hat and a hand sticking out of his head, and an approximation of Mr. Potatohead as drawn by Picasso. I say they’re grey, and that’s their natural state, but over the course of the show, they are lit up in every rainbow color, pulsing in orange, blue, green, red, purple in time to Animal Collective’s powerful rhythms. The whole back wall of the stage is taken up by a painted screen, on which images, some abstract, some literal, all colorful, are projected throughout the show. Some of the imagery ties directly into lyrical content (during “Bees” there are bees on the screen), and all of it is coordinated to shifts in tempo and musical phrasing, so I imagine Animal Collective must follow a pretty strict set list, so as to match up to the visuals. Even so, however, the light show doesn’t seem to constrain the show or push it in unwanted directions or even distract; it is as much a part of the experience as the music itself.

The show opens with altered, abstracted vocal sounds and then the big hard beat of “Hocus Pocus,” the dark stage lit up, all of the sudden with spiraling blue lights. A playful, island mood takes over in the trebly “Water Curses,” from an EP released almost ten years ago, with strobing flashes of red and yellow lighting up the stage and statues. You don’t want to be an epileptic at this show. A more spiritual vibe emerges from the surging, intercutting voices of “Guys Eyes,” as Avey Tare sings “Need her, need her,” over and over. A string of happy, peppy, electronically jacked songs ensues “Burglars,” “On Delay,” and then the staccato, sticks on rims syncopation of “Sweet Road,” the splayed harpsichord chords of “Bees” brings us back, briefly, into a more lyrical, vulnerable early avatar of the band. (Though not unchanged, “Bees” is a lot more hopping-up-and-down jacked than I remember it.) The main set closes with an extended version of “Summertime Clothes,” which so pleases the crowd (and the band) that they stop once and do a bit of the chorus again.

An encore starts with the messy staticky electric pop of “Recycling” and “Kinda Bonkers” and then finishes with “Daily Routine,” a prime example of the kind of soaring, melodic anthemry that Animal Collective used to regularly pull off and now mostly avoids. Towards the end Panda Bear trades vocals with Avey Tare, Tare in a rhythmic chant, Bear in baroquely beautiful descants. The audience has applauded three times like the show is over before he finishes, but he keeps coming back with another achingly pretty choral flourish. Yeah, we missed it, too.

 

14 STEPS: Garland Jeffreys Live

Hugh’s Room Live was the scene, and the man delivered. Boy, did he ever.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERIC THOM

I’ve never met the Pope. But I’ve met Garland Jeffreys and I’m expecting the experience to be similar. Aside from the man’s 47+ years of show business credentials and endless library of exceptional songs, he appears to stand for everything that matters in this world, embracing an absolute love of his fellow man with a buoyant, upbeat positivity that would make Julie Andrews blush – everything you’d expect of a proper pontiff. Completely approachable and extremely fan-friendly, the extra time he invested into the end of his evening turned out to be as lengthy as the 16-song set he and his Coney Island Playboys had just laid out for a full, adoring house of forever fans. Long after most artists would’ve been justifiably hotel-bound, Garland Jeffreys sincerely cares to go that extra mile.

Touring his latest (14th) release, the 12-track 14 Steps To Harlem, Jeffreys was quick to keep things moving forward, proving that one of New York’s finest poets is as relevant today as he ever was –possibly more so. A lifetime of smart, socially-conscious songs and brilliant covers – dipped in loving portions of rock, R&B, blues and reggae – has resulted in the creation of music defying simple categorization. Born to an African American father and a Puerto-Rican mother, the tough neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn made him the butt of rampant racism, paying dearly for being neither fully white or black. Jeffreys fought back with love and music, penning countless songs to document his painful, isolated journey in his efforts to right the wrongs of the world without ever once pulling the victim card. In so doing, he grew all the more invincible for his efforts, earning the respect – and friendship – of powerful people.

So, for many of us, Garland Jeffreys is more than a successful musician with an impressive career (who, by the way, still sounds and acts as freshly-squeezed as he did when he first started). He’s a modern-day hero, if not an icon for beating the odds and winning over negativity with compassion and positive action. And…. let’s not forget the fruit of his labor – his inimitable catalogue. Beginning with a track from 2011’s The King of In Between, “Coney Island Winter”, Jeffreys and band slowly built up momentum as the small Hugh’s Room stage had its sound adjusted.

Rolling Stone’s Best New Artist of the Year (’77) followed this with “’til John Lee Hooker Calls Me” from the same record, a tough-sounding blue boogie in the spirit of the master. Yet it took the slowed down version of the Stones-like “The Contortionist” (The King of In Between) to truly appreciate the ageless quality of Jeffreys’ rich vocals. The significant live skills of his band members are not to be discounted, integral to Jeffreys’ secret recipe. Keyboardist and longtime band member, Charly Roth, plays a key role in adding flesh to each composition while the fat-bottomed rhythm section of drummer Tom Curiano and bassist Brian Stanley are crucial to the foot-tapping nature of every Jeffreys song. Guitarist Justin “J.J.” Jordan proved a wizard with many surprises – from dizzying lead solos and special effects across a range of stringed instruments.

The highly effervescent “Venus” (from 14 Steps To Harlem) is a natural fit to Jeffreys’ repertoire – a “summer song” if you’ve ever heard one, causing the artist to ask the crowd if he had a hit on his hands. “Yes”, came the immediate vote. Harlem’s ”Reggae On Broadway” fed fans their fix of that earthy collision of New York via Jamaica. Yet it was two tracks from ‘77s Ghost Writer that quickly elevated the temperature of the room: the infectious “35 Millimeter Dreams” was manna from heaven while the sweetly soulful “Spanish Town” benefited from Jordan’s deft Spanish guitar accompaniment and Jeffreys’ emotional mastery over the Latin-esque ballad. Chili dogs have never sounded so appetizing.

The newer, rockier “When You Call My Name” (Harlem) followed with supportive vocals from band members and a heavily, keyboard-led groove. A heartfelt story about meeting John Lennon (a like-minded advocate of right over wrong) led to a slowed-down, graceful remake of The Beatles’ ”Help” (14 Steps). The quirky “Harlem Bound”, from his self-titled ’73 release, took flight, nourished by Roth’s lovely piano and powered by Stanley’s funky bass contributions, before segueing into the powerful “14 Steps to Harlem”. A tribute to Dylan’s influence came in the form of “She Belongs To Me” merged into his tribute to fellow Syracuse University classmate, Lou Reed, and an aggressive, harder-edged cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man”. Far from an artist feeling the need to ‘milk the oldies’, “Ghost Writer” has become a must-play and the audience was treated to this sensual, if not penultimate Jeffreys track which, again, revisited elements of “14 Steps to Harlem” to stunning effect. Ghost Writer’s “New York Skyline” was another essential flashback as Jeffreys updated it with a “We’re All Equal” rap that also boasted one of Jordan’s most effective guitar solos.

And, from the school of Ending the Show with a Bang, an uproariously funky treatment of “Hail Hail Rock’n’Roll” (from Don’t Call Me Buckwheat) was a talk-sung barn-burner – not before closing with an equally powerful cover of one of his strongest covers – ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” (from Escape Artist), featuring some impressive B3 from Roth’s keyboard. Sweating up a storm and in a clearly rambunctious mood – nourished by an audience who couldn’t quite get enough of Pope Garland – this night was clearly as much fun for the spry performer as it was for the party faithful. Jokingly, he reminded us that, should anyone ask what the ruckus was all about, “tell them Elvis was in the building. ‘

There was no “Wild In The Streets”, “Cool Down Boy” or “I May Not Be Your Kind” – but there didn’t need to be. Essential? Vital? Legendary? Crucial? You can’t help but gain a reassuring handle on your world given the realization that New York’s proudest son continues to perform like a man on a mission. Even better, despite all that he’s endured, Jeffreys feels truly blessed in his role to make the world a better place. Hail, hail indeed.

Postscript” If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know Garland Jeffreys or doesn’t understand his musical contribution, there’s good news in the form of a feature documentary that’s in the works. Interviews with Laurie Anderson, Graham Parker and Harvey Keitel are already in the can as this project grows. You can get involved via the crowd-funding site, below:

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/whoisgarlandjeffreys

Justin Townes Earle + The Sadies 5/26/17, Denver

Dates: May 26, 2017

Location: Bluebird Theatre, Denver CO

More twang per capita than most folks get in a lifetime, but this time it was the Bluebird Theatre.

BY TIM HINELY / PHOTOS BY BEN CURNETT

At this point I’d have hard time believeing that The Sadies could even put on a bad show. After seeing them last summer in Denver (at the Bull and Bush Pub) and tonight it’s obvious this band’s strength is on the stage. By the time we had arrived the band was already on stage, but only a song or two in and the nearly capacity crowd were completely rapt while the band was playing and erupted in applause n’ hoots once each song was done. Their fan base is very dedicated.

The band hails from Toronto, Canada and is the brainchild of brothers Dallas and Travis Good (with Sean Dean on stand-up bass and Mike Belitsky on drums) and are usually lumped in with the alternative country crowd and while they do mine plenty of country elements in their music, they also include elements of surf and psych into their proceedings as well. The end product is a set of instantly likeable songs (even if you don’t like country music) and the band just exudes a certain energy, flair and a serious love of what they’re doing. It’s really intoxicating. They played a handful of songs off their latest, Northern Passages (Yep Roc) and tossed in a cover of fellow countrymen Blue Rodeo’s “Palace of Gold.” Please keep comin’ back to Denver.

It had been a number of years since I’d last caught Justin Townes Earle (opening up for Jason Isbell at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland in 2011 or so). On this night he was backed by the Sadies (yup, pullin’ double duty) and had an extra guitar player in Lambchop’s Paul Niehaus (who is a monster on guitar). This lineup fit him well.

He’s touring for his band news album, Kids in the Street (New West Records), another strong record from this son of Steve Earle who hasn’t made a bad platter yet. He opened up with a few cuts from said record and then turned back the clock and played some of his older cuts like “Christchurch Woman,” “Move Over Mama” and “One More Night in Brooklyn.” All crowd pleasers.

The cuts from the new record we heard were “Champagne Corolla”, “15-25” and. He then went backwards and we heard stunning versions of “I Killed John Henry,” “Nothings Goma Change the Way You Feel About Me Now” (which he described as “maybe the saddest song I ever wrote”) and he even snuck in a cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”

He left and came back for a few encores (including “Harlem River Blues”) and called it a night.

It’s obvious that Earle is a real talent. He seems to have beaten his battle with the bottle (being newly sober with a baby on the way). I sure hope so, the guy is too damn good to go the way of so many other musicians. We need him here and now.

Lewis Watson 5/12/17, Toronto

Dates: May 12, 2017

Location: Mod Club, Toronto ON

Live at Toronto’s Mod Club, the British singer-songwriter proved he was no Sheeran wannabe.

BY ERIC THOM

Behold a new breed of concert for a new breed of fan. Know that I don’t yet consider myself one – but, having offered to drive my daughter home after the show, I thought I’d stick my head in to see what all the fuss was about. What I observed was a roomful of intensely-focused fans – mostly teenaged girls and youngish couples, obviously smitten by the charms of this 24-year old, British singer-songwriter, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

Nothing particularly different about that, maybe – except that each fan knew every word and would join Watson in unison (or add harmony) with less than a gesture. From an old fart’s perspective, this was a 90-minute group hug of the closest kind, as rewarding for the artist as it was for the fan. There’s no question an artist performs differently for people who appreciate their music – it’s far more than a payday. This was clearly an elongated love letter between the two. Watson has been seen, by some, as being another Ed Sheeran wannabe – however there’s no questioning his talent as a gifted writer and as a performer. The Sheeran comparison has its validity, primarily for their shared approach to tapping into a certain freshness in the category of introspective, acoustic pop, for their seemingly boundless energy and for that coy hint of innocence. Similarly, Watson possesses an innate rhythmic element (recalling a young Dave Matthews) and – with two LPs and countless EPs to draw from – a pool of material which reveals him as an inventive lyricist and arranger. This simplified, solo set provided an opportunity to zoom in on the strengths of his vocals. Label-free and running his own show with little more than the power of Social Media on his side, the young Oxford native is promoting a well-teased, new, 10-track album, Midnight – rich in blending the expected with a more progressive use of added instrumentation.

Touring the world on the strengths of his loyal, if not rabid, fans, he’s delivering exactly what they want. And while the strengths of these songs depend heavily on the support of a full band sound, Watson exudes an obvious charm, an emotive voice, a deep-dish sincerity and conviction, plus enough sing-along hooks to keep the potentially rowdy room completely spellbound. More power to him. And if that wasn’t hard enough work for one night, he made a heartfelt promise to meet everyone (“no matter whether you buy any merch or not”) after the last song was played (the stunning “Deep The Water”). There was no call for an encore. It was an understanding. And then the entire room queued up to meet their youthful hero – a huge line snaking through the full depth of the room and 3-4 deep. True to his word and with barely the wipe of a towel, Watson preceded to meet’n’greet each and every individual, tapping into utter enthusiasm with tireless energy. Hugs to all, animated conversations (most fans have seen him before), posing for countless cell phone photos for one and all, selling and signing LPs, CDs and shirts and generally adding another hour or two to his evening.


He’s no dummy nor is there any question of his genuineness. This is the job and he loves it like it’s his first time. Had you arrived at the show feeling largely unloved or at all under-appreciated, you’d go home feeling like a million bucks. No wonder he’s catching on.

***

Son Volt + Sera Cahoone 5/12/17, Englewood, CO

Dates: May 12, 2017

Location: Gothic Theatre, Englewood, CO

Live at the celebrated Denver-area Gothic Theatre, the Americana pioneers touched all the right bases.

TEXT BY TIM HINELY / PHOTOS BY JEFFREY WEBB DAVIS

It had been close to two decades since I’d last seen Jay Farrar’s Son Volt in a live setting. I loved the band’s first two records (and most of the third one, too), but after that record Farrar didn’t release another Son Volt record for another 7 years (2005’s Okemag and the Melody of Riot) and instead opted to release records under his own name and do some collaborations. It wasn’t quite the same for me. I’d heard bits of later records but for me nothing quite seemed to catch that magic like those first few records.

I wasn’t going to go tonight, but a few pals had planned on it so I joined in. Plus Sera Cahoone was opening and I try not to miss any of her sets.

Walked in to a packed house at the Gothic and Cahoone had just started. It was just her on stage with a friend who was playing violin. Cahoone is touring for her new record, From Where I Started (Lady Muleskinner Records) and it’s another gorgeous bunch of folky songs from this highly underrated songwriter. They played a handful of cuts from that record but also pulled out some classics from her last record,  2012’s Deer Creek Canyon including the title track and “Nervous Wreck.”  They also did a splendid cover of “Delta Dawn” and called it a night, but not before giving a shout out to her family (Cahoone was born and raised in the Denver area but now lives in Seattle).

Farrar and company hit the stage at 10 PM and I noticed that I wasn’t the oldest person here and the gig was a nice mix of ages. They opened playing a bunch of  cuts from his latest, Notes of Blue including “Static,” “Lost Souls” and “Cherokee St.” From there they also pulled out several gems from classic first album, Trace including “Route,” “Tear Stained Eye,” “Drown” and “Catching On” while from ‘97’s Straightaways they played the beautiful pop song “Back Into Your World.”

During the set the band members mostly kept their heads down and played with Farrar, a man not known for too much chatter, occasionally mumbled a “thank you” in between songs (toward the end of the set he also introduced the band).

They came out for a two-song-encore which was “Windfall’ and  Uncle Tupelo’s “Chickamauga” and then came out for a second encore handling the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On,” slowing it down, if just a little. Another terrific set from this hard-working bunch. All of the folks I spoke to after the set were more than satisfied.

 

Twin Peaks 5/11/17, Atlanta

The Chicago indie rockers helped kick off the Shaky Knees Festival in fine style at Terminal West – the main SKF events are this weekend.

BY JOHN BOYDSTON

It’s Shaky Knees Music Fest weekend in Atlanta, and I caught one of my favorite bands playing a warm up show Thursday night at Terminal West.

If Nick Lowe heard Twin Peaks he’d called them bashers – and he’d mean it as a compliment, as do I.  Tough, fast, brash, energetic hard-rocking indie-rock at its best.  This young band has been at it several years – and their hard work is evident from the moment they take the stage whether it’s a big festival stage or a club with confidence, chops, and fun, and ain’t that what its all about?   They call Chicago home but they can’t get back there too often – seems like they are constantly on the road.  Three LPs under their belt – and a new live double-record ‘Urbs in Horto.

Twin Peaks the band is Cadien Lake James (lead vocals, guitar) Clay Frankel (vocals, guitars),  Jack Dolan (bass, vocals) Colin Croom on keys, and Connor Brodner who I think is one of the finest, most fun to watch drummers out there.  He straps in, says I’m driving, and boom – the roller coaster ride is on.  Check ‘em out – http://twinpeaksdudes.com/

Slowdive 5/11/17, Atlanta

The hills – or, more accurately, the halls of Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse – are alive with the sound of shoegaze… Slowdive wrapped up their US tour with a lead-in to the annual Shaky Knees Festival, and did so in fine style.

BY JOHN BOYDSTON

Super-psych-shoegaze giants Slowdive, on the last US show on their 2017 tour, arrived at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta’s Little 5 Points area, and the capacity crowd brought the love.

Slowdive formed in Reading, Berkshire in 1989, made some records and some noise, broke up for years – reformed in 2014 and came back bigger and maybe better than ever.   The band is Rachel Goswell on vocals and guitar, Simon Scott on drums, Neil Halstead on vocals and guitar, Nick Chaplin on bass and Christian Savill on guitar.   The new LP is Slowdive – which, incidentally, can be scored as a gorgeous clear vinyl edition if you know where to shop – so check it out and get more tour dates at the band’s website – http://www.slowdiveofficial.com/

 

I suspect this audience would have been happy just hearing the music – but the band’s impressive light show was quite a spectacle unto itself.  Hope you can get some of that from the photos.  (Higher-rez versions of these images are going up at jobo.smugmug.com shortly so check ‘em out. )

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONO 5/8/17, Atlanta

Dates: May 8, 2017

Location: The Earl, Atlanta GA

Magical instrumental music from Tokyo descends, Godzilla-like, on The Earl…

BY JOHN BOYDSTON

MONO will make all your sonic dreams come true – and throw in some amazing nightmares for good measure.  They are four cats from Japan playing magical instrumental music.  The stacks of Marshall amps onstage tell me it is rock, but the finesse and skill of the band makes me want to say there’s a lot more to it than that.

From their Facebook page – “The Tokyo, Japan based 4 piece Instrumental Rock band MONO was originally formed in 1999. Their unique approach of blending orchestral arrangements and shoegaze guitar noise in their music has been held in extremely high regard; so much so, that the band’s musicianship can no longer be sustained by Rock music alone and was praised by British Musical Magazine NME as “This is music for the Gods”.

Lucky Gods, and lucky capacity crowd at The Earl on a Monday night – who were hanging on ever note and nuance, from the pin-drop quiet to the roaring thunderous crescendos.

The band is Takaakira ‘Taka’ Goto (guitar), Tamaki (bass, piano),Yoda (guitar) and Yasunori Takada (drums). They are on tour for the next month with what looks like a couple more weeks of US dates – Go!

 

(About these photos – I wasn’t trying to get artsy with them or anything.  It’s just that while the lighting at the club was perfect for the mood, not so much for this photographer.  I’ve got a camera that can suck light out of a deep space galaxy in the night sky, but it was tough going here.  Yet I love this venue for photography – if it was easy it wouldn’t be fun.   Larger hi-rez photos will be at jobo.smugmug.com and might be easier viewing there on a computer screen.  Everyone still has one of those, right?  – John Boydston)

 

 

GIVING IT THEIR ALL: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Best band in the world? Just maybe… Live during the Middle of the Map Fest at KC’s Uptown Theater on May 5, the man and the band wrenched emotion out of thin air while showcasing material both old and from the new album. Below, watch some 2017 live clips.

BY DANNY PHILLIPS

I’m sitting in a dark bar writing about the previous night’s performance of Jason Isbell and his Alabama brothers (and wife Amanda Shires) in the 400 Unit, scribbling my reflections on the back of a Budweiser box with a borrowed pen.

Squinting in the low light of The Rendezvous, my hometown punk rock bar, I try to piece together what I saw at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City with one of my best friends in the world the previous evening.  Prince is blasting from the overly loud jukebox.  I try to think of memories and melody.  I’m waiting for a band called the Creeps, writing about what could be the tightest, best band I’ve ever seen in my life.

In Kansas City, as part of the yearly Middle of the Map Fest, three days of national, regional and local acts of every size, shape and flavor, Isbell and the 400 Unit readied their fans for the upcoming release of Isbell’s The Nashville Sound.  (June 16th on Southeastern Records)

Isbell and his compatriots showed on this Friday night in the barbecue capital of the world, why they should be considered in the conversation for best band in America and Isbell as one of the finest guitarists of the last twenty years.  He and the 400 Unit, a group of topnotch players that have been with Isbell for years, proved that they are some of the best players in any genre, of any band going today.

They hit all the spots, emotional highs and spiritual lows, showing what it means to be human, to feel pain and joy, loss and victory; to know the consequences of your mistakes, and what it feels like to save yourself from yourself, to let love in and put all your faith in someone with no fear.

Isbell, multiple 2016 Grammy winner and former guitarist for Drive-By Truckers, shapes songs out of the things we have all felt: uncontrollable love (“Cover Me Up”), the pressure of passing on something of substance as a father or mother (“Outfit”), being stuck in place you wish was someplace else (“Speed Trap Town”), or the crushing feeling of rejection and loss. (“Songs she Sang in the Shower”)

As a guitarist, lyricist, and musician, Isbell is a man beyond his 38 years.  Emotion, it’s clear, runs deep in the Muscle Shoals, Alabama favorite son.  The South is at the very root of which he is as a person and writer, able to touch something inside those listening; melody, harmony and laying it all out on the table, all things coming together in a way that “country” acts like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan will never get to experience.

Opening with “Go It Alone” from Here We Rest, Isbell and the 400 Unit rolled out a set that would make fans of all stages of Isbell’s career thankful that they went out into the world on a beautiful Midwestern spring night, to share something with a room full of like-minded music lovers.  If you missed it, if you chose to continue the sedentary life, sticking with what you know, never looking at the next page, playing it safe at home with some ice cream, you missed something special.

Those of us inside that beautiful, nearly century-old theater got a taste of the new record, a rougher, bigger, more rock influenced sound with “Cumberland Gap,” the beautifully haunted, sorrowful playing and tone of “If We We’re Vampires.”  There was the pull-yourself-up motivation of “Hope the High Road,” as well as the Drive-by Truckers classic story song, the title track from the 2003 album Decoration Day.

Isbell and the 400 Unit gave it all they had on that stage, leaving behind everything for us to contemplate, carrying on the tradition of blurring the lines between country and rock like Uncle Tupelo, Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, Rick Nelson, The Bottlerockets, and the Allman Brothers before them.  Leaving into that Missouri night, I was happy down to my soul, gone to ponder and count the days until Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit bring the show back to town.

I know I’ll be there. (Isbell will be touring throughout June and July, starting June 12 in Asheville. Dates at his website.)

Setlist:

Go it Alone

Stockholm

24 Frames

Something More than Free

Decoration Day

Flagship

Codeine

How to Forget

Cumberland Gap

Alabama Pines

Outfit

Speed Trap Town

If it Takes a Lifetime

Cover Me Up

Super 8

If We Were Vampires

Flying Over Water

Never Gonna Change