Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
February 9, 2014
St. Louis, MO
This review is coming in a little late for my tastes, but no one ever said “Timeliness is next to Godliness”. The good news is I capped off my beer consumption at 3-4, so my mind is sparkly clear even three weeks later. So at long last, here is my written account of Jason Isbell live.
Late last summer, I attempted to go see Isbell at a venue called Off Broadway, not thinking there was a particularly good chance the show would sell out. Of course, by the time I showed up, it was indeed sold out and there was not a scalper to be found. So when I found out Jason Isbell was returning to St. Louis, my girlfriend insisted on buying tickets immediately. Great decision, because even though he played at a bigger venue (Plush), the show was sold out once again. Plush, which I would estimate holds about 1000 people, was jam packed by the time the opener went on. I had no idea Isbell was so popular in St. Louis, but will have learned my lesson for next time.
There isn’t one bad thing I can say about the actual performance of Isbell. He opened with a few songs off his previous two albums before moving into songs off his breakout, Southeastern. The crowd was surprisingly knowledgeable about older tracks like “God Damn Lonely Love”, “Decoration Day”, and “Codeine”, which is as positive as I’m going to be about the crowd. In fact this was the most vitriol for trying to get a little closer, since I attempted to see Radiohead at Bonnaroo in 2005. It was like people had never seen a sold out show before in a general admission venue, and expected to have a roped off area in which to hang out with just their group. There was just a lot of getting pushed in the back and dealing with jutted out elbows that made the entire experience less enjoyable. Beyond the hillbilly crowd who had wandered into the big city to see their first show since Willy last came to town, Plush is just not the type of venue for that many people. I have always enjoyed shows I’ve seen at Plush, but they have pillars obstructing views, and the balcony is pretty useless unless you are right on the rail.
Enough about the shitty crowd and lackluster venue though. Isbell played almost every song I wanted to hear, only missing “Songs That She Sang in the Shower” and the Townes Van Zandt classic “Pancho and Lefty”, which he covers quite a bit. “Alabama Pines”, “Codeine”, and all the older stuff was great. The newer stuff off of Southeastern was even better. Isbell’s voice is one of the most powerful out-of-studio voices I have ever heard. He is a huge presence on the stage and a natural performer, which is a bit surprising just because his songs are so deeply personal.
Capping off the show was Isbell’s encore which started off with a duet with his fiddle player Amanda Shires (Isbell’s wife) of Leonard Cohen’s “Mutineer”. Even though I really wanted to hear “Pancho and Lefty” going in, “Mutineer” was just as good and a nice surprise. Then, Isbell went into the most bombastic song, “Super 8 Motel”, off his latest record and called it a night.
Despite the ancillary shittiness of the venue and crowd, which I am docking the score for, Isbell himself would receive a perfect score. Can’t wait to see him again, hopefully in a better environment.
Can’t Miss: “Cover Me Up”, “Codeine”, “Yvette”, “Mutineer”
Can’t Hit: none