Jason Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit, kicked off the night in high gear, with What Have I Done to Help and Hope The High Road back to back. “Oh, It’s gonna be a good one tonight” he said in between songs “I can feel it!” Later, Isbell dedicated Letting You Go, a slower, cowboy-campfire like song near the beginning of the set, to his six year old daughter. “She’s got to go to bed soon, So I promised her I would move this up in the setlist so she could hear it” he said. “I don’t make the rules.”
Jason Isbell has been very busy lately. On top of an acting role in an upcoming Scorsese film, alongside talent such as Leonardo DiCaprio, he recently released a cover album of songs from Georgia artists titled Georgia Blue which was brought on by a tweet Isbell made on election night in 2020, saying if Georgia went blue in the election, he would make said cover album. The proceeds of which would go to voter registration efforts in the state, which “Sounded like a good idea to me” he mentioned last night on stage. He also included 2 of those covers from the album in his setlist, Driver 8, an R.E.M. Cover, and Honeysuckle Blue, a Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ cover, featuring former member Sadler Vaden (who has the best name for a rock guitarist in recent years) on guitar and vocals. Isbell and the 400 unit also covered a handful of Drive-By Truckers tunes as well, Goddamn Lonely Love (Which Isbell mentioned he’s played many times at the 400 Bar, First Avenue, and the Turf Club to great applause) and the last encore number, Never Gonna Change.
The tour was also supposed to be behind Isbell’s latest release Reunions released back at the beginning of May 2020, and due the pandemic, the original show had to be postponed until now. The good news, at least, is that it gave fans plenty of time to learn the lyrics of all the “new” stuff, even if it was over a year old already. And with the original show postponed, that made this show one fans have been waiting for for what felt like decades. On top of that, Jason Isbell was one of the first nationally known acts to implement a vaccination requirement for his shows earlier this year, setting a precedent for the majority of the touring industry. “I wanted to thank y’all for going out and doing that’’ he said before Stockholm “I hope that tonight was worth all the effort and all the time you’ve been waiting. It means a lot to me.” Isbell’s guidelines made headlines initially and drew much criticism, but if there’s one thing that’s “Outlaw Country” these days, it’s doing the right goddamn thing.
From a local perspective, going from a venue as small as the Turf Club all the way to The Armory is no small feat. But when you consider that Isbell had been doing this for the better part of 20 years, it’s well deserved. Tonight, concertgoers were not only graced with seeing one of the best guitarists of our time, but also one of the best songwriters and bands out there right now. A part of which was guitarist Sadler Vaden, Bassist Jimbo Hart, Chad Gamble on Drums, and Derry Deborja behind anything with keys onstage. Isbell made sure we knew all their names before the night was over, a key part of shows I wish more bands took to heart.
The songs from Reunions still touches on a lot of the harder parts of life, and even the heavy, slower songs that might be someone’s bathroom break song still got the massive crowd at The Armory to shut up and listen, and at times, sing along to songs like Dreamsicle that touch on some of the underlying shadows of childhood. Cover Me Up, from Isbell’s Southeastern record, also had fans singing along to the narrator’s struggle with addiction. But for every hard-hitting song fans sang along to, there were also guitar driven songs like Overseas and Be Afraid that let clients rock out just as hard as the band.
The only missing piece from the night was the absence of Amanda Shires, fiddle player, background vocalist, and the only female member of the 400 Unit. Who also has a new holiday album out as well. However, It’s hard to find anything to fault about The 400 Unit. A hardworking band on the road, doing the right thing to keep us all as safe and musically fulfilled as they can.