Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Symphony Hall, Birmingham
It was Halloween and the kids were trick or treating. Well those lucky enough to get tickets to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit in Birmingham were definitely treated to something special. After a couple of solo albums to take a slightly more introspective view of himself and his songwriting, Isbell has got the band back together. And what a band they are, coming to life even more in the live arena.
Set in the beautiful surroundings of Birmingham's Symphony Hall Isbell and his master craftsmen delivered a show of highs and highers. Standing resplendent in a red Wonder Woman t-shirt (his daughter was trick or treating in costume back home in Nashville) Isbell holds centre stage throughout, from the storming opener 'Anxiety' through the raucous closing cover of Tom Petty's 'Refugee'. The Alabama native is a songwriter of the highest calibre, and on stage even the less explosive albums tracks are boosted, whether it's 'Molotov' from his current The Nashville Sound album or a blazing 'Something More Than Free' from the album of the same name.
What makes the show so special though is the ease with which the band go from the perfect, delicate staging of 'Cover Me Up' - possibly the best song ever written to someone's future wife - to all-out rock 'n roll on a noisy and blistering 'Never Gonna Change'. Throw in the beautiful 'If We Were Vampires' and heartbreaking 'Elephant', both gracefully sung and delivered, the visceral lyrics and riffs of 'White Man's World', and the melody of '24 Frames' and you've got a band at the peak of their powers.
In just an hour and forty-five minutes, Isbell's music and lyrics, the guitar of Sadler Vaden, drums of Chad Gamble, bass of Jimbo Hart and keys of Derry DeBorja, combine to showcase some of the best songs of the last decade. It's gig of the year material.