Eyes as big as stars, all under a starry night at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY TODD GUNSHER
I think it can be easily said that the coolest dad in Raleigh this past Father’s Day was Jason Isbell. On the second date of the tour supporting his latest record, The Nashville Sound, he put on one hell of a rock and roll show to a sold-out crowd under a starry North Carolina night.
Coming out of the gate with “Cumberland Gap” and “Stockholm,” Jason and his longtime band The 400 Unit signified, as always, that they mean business. Unlike many songwriters who hire different musicians whenever they hit the road, the fact that Isbell goes out with the same players brings a consistency that strengthens the music. While the songs are Isbell’s, on stage this is a band, not a singer with some supporting players. Jason clearly thinks highly of the guys, Sadler Vaden, (guitar), Jimbo Hart, (bass), Derry DeBorja (keyboards) and Chad Gamble (drums), introducing each of them multiple times throughout the night, often with a dryly delivered one-liner. Joining the 400 Unit on fiddle and vocals was Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires who, with her own band, also opened the show (below).
You can find reviews of The Nashville Sound elsewhere (it’s already got my vote for the album of the year), but Jason is obviously proud of the work as eight of it’s 10 songs made up nearly half the set. Great songwriters transcend genre but must also continually work at their craft, and Isbell’s work over the years puts him in the upper echelon of great songwriters. Throughout the night, all the songs, whether “Outfit” (complete with a Father’s Day dedication to his dad) and “Decoration Day” from his Drive-
By Truckers days, or the most recent songs like “Tupelo” and “White Man’s World” all fit alongside one another and all seem equally familiar. I was really glad to hear “Something To Love” which became a favorite upon my first listen, and judging by the response of the crowd I’m not alone. Not only was it a setlist with with no filler, it’s near impossible to even find a throwaway line, he is a true craftsman. And then there’s his guitar playing, which is not only great, but played on a stunning collection of instruments that I’m sure didn’t go unnoticed by the other guitar nerds in the audience.
The band ended the set with the quiet of “Cover Me Up” followed by the heavy riffing of “Anxiety.” Returning to the stage for the encore, they slowed things back down with “If We Were Vampires,” a beautiful song off the new record that already ranks up there with the best of his material. To close out the night, Jason said they were going to play an Allman Brothers song, to the obvious delight of the southern crowd. Remembering Gregg Allman, Jason told of how Gregg had correctly predicted that his and Amanda’s baby was going to be a girl and the band then hit the familiar riff of “Whipping Post.” True to the Allmans influence, this rendition definitely hit the note with soaring solos by both Vaden and Isbell and was a perfect way to send us home.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit have a full schedule of dates lined up so catch them if you can, they definitely don’t disappoint.
Hope The High Road
Something More Than Free
White Man’s World
Last of my kind
Something To Love
If it takes a lifetime
Cover Me Up