Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit revisit a dark past but stare optimistically into a long bright future.
Starting a show with a guitar that will not produce any sound is not good. But working through it is what you do when your name is, Jason Isbell.
Isbell is certainly no stranger to working through it. His songs about life and its struggles are a testament to the human spirit. These songs were brought to life with the help of his band, the 400 Unit and wife, Amanda Shires. St. Louis, also a city that is the testament to the human spirit, ate up this nearly two-hour show.
From the onset, the bond between Shires and Isbell cannot be ignored. The husband and wife duo walk on stage holding hands and walk off the same way. When their schedules permit, they sit in with each other’s bands. This was Isbell’s second visit to Peabody Opera House this year. In March he sat in with his wife when she opened for John Prine. The singer/songwriter often validates that he owes his life to Shires as she helped him through his well-documented bouts with his demons.
As of late, it’s hard to be at a show that doesn’t include a few thousand raised cell phones. But tonight, was refreshingly different, people listened. The phones came up but only for a brief second, when a commemorative photo was needed. The prevailing vibe of the night was that every one of Isbell’s songs spoke to someone in the room. The audience showed their appreciation with some aisle dancing and standing ovations.
Songs from his newly released album, The Nashville Sound punctuate the set list. The less than one-month old album is already a new fan favorite. Many shared the troubadour’s fears, assisting him with the chorus of, “Last of My Kind”. Illuminating the backstory of the songwriting process prior to, “Cover Me Up” Isbell says his wife will not tolerate a ‘piece of shit song’. He also reiterates she is the only critic that matters. The connection between the two is stronger than ever during the performance of this song.
A good dose of everything Jason Isbell is put in the mix. He remains proud of his roots with the, Drive By Truckers, turning in a solid version of, “Decoration Day”. The guitar volume rises just a bit, as the thinking man’s poet nails, “Flying Over Water” and “Stockholm”. Two selections from the 2013 album, Southeastern. The not quite 40-year-old seems pleased with his current place in life. Appearing deeply appreciative of the 400 Unit, he introduces the band members repeatedly during the night. Also passing out kudos to The Peabody Opera House, calling it a beautiful room.
Making the audience work for an encore, Isbell and company finally return to the stage. Harmonizing beautifully with Shires, the pair entertains visions of growing old together in, “If We Were Vampires”. Isbell asks bassist Jimbo Hart to kick off the closing song of the night, what came next was a real musical treat. Everyone in the house knew the familiar bass line immediately, The Allman Brothers “Whipping Post”. Every musician on stage played their part in making this magical ten-minute jam session one for the record books.
Before I close, a shout out should be given to the opening act, The Mountain Goats. This John Darnielle led group presented some inventive rhythms and google worthy song lyrics. A perfect pairing with Isbell’s lyrical buffet.
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Event Date: 12-July-2017