Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Lyric Opera House

Last night I once again went to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit in concert. I adore him so much. I don’t know anyone who writes songs like he does. He’s not really a country artist, but many of his songs are like little short stories which is definitely a country influence. However, most country songs are treacly and with a plot that feels forced. Jason Isbell’s songs are the opposite of that. They feel real and true. The lyrics are poignant with amazing turns of phrase. The songs feel well lived in. I still haven’t come up with a better analogy than saying listening to his songs feels like watching Friday Night Lights. They pull the same trigger in my soul.

I saw Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play back in the summer at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Even though I know full well that Merriweather is considered a DC venue for booking purposes, I am never not momentarily surprised when we wind up getting a Baltimore date for a tour that’s also been through Merriweather. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they were going to be playing at the Lyric Opera House. Unlike the Merriweather show, which granted is a much larger venue, this show was pretty much sold out. I almost didn’t manage to get tickets to it, partly because Ticketmaster is a bastard. It looked like the show sold out in seconds, but I kept checking and it seems like someone let their tickets go and 2 popped up way in the back of balcony so I snagged them. Then the next day there were tons of much better tickets open. They obviously did all eventually sell, but I was really annoyed that I could have had much better seats if I had waited, which makes zero sense. At least the Lyric is a pretty small venue, so our seats were still good even if they were far back.

In addition to seeing the concert at Merriweather, I had also watched live streams of Jason Isbell’s Austin City Limits taping and one of the 5 sold out shows he did at the Ryman Auditorium last year. The set list for all three was pretty much the same with the old variation being the order of the songs that they played. So I figured we were going to get the same thing at this show. I was surprised when there was a little bit more variation than I thought there would be. For the most part it was the same, with them of course playing a lot of music from their newest album, The Nashville Sound. 

They played more songs off of Southeastern than I’ve seen recently, which made me happy. I was literally listening to “Stockholm” the night before the concert and thinking that I miss getting to hear him play that song and then lo and behold they played it last night. Of course they also played “Cover Me Up”. That is his forever and always song. I think he’ll play that in every set until he dies. The day of this show was apparently also Isbell’s 6 year anniversary of getting sober, so the crowd went even more wild than usual when he sang the lyrics, “But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff. Forever this time.” It felt really special to hear that sung on that occasion.

This show was pretty short on stage banter, which I was a little disappointed in. If you follow Jason Isbell on Twitter you know that he’s really funny as well as an excellent song writer. I really loved how much he told stories and joked around during his set at Merriweather. Last night he was pretty much like we’ve got work to do (I mean he literally said that when his wife, Amanda Shires, who is sometimes part of his band started talking about it being the anniversary of him getting sober), let’s get down to business and play these people some music.

It was still a great show though. I love the music to deepest depths of my heart and soul. He has some pretty great fans too, which I cannot say for many of the artists I see. People who get Jason Isbell’s music like me are rabid about it. I remember listening to an All Songs Considered year end wrap up a few years ago and having Ann Powers put Jason Isbell on her best of list and Bob Boilen responding I don’t get it. I have seen him play and it’s done nothing for me, but I’ve looked at the crowd around me and they have this sort of rapture on their faces. Bob Boilen may not get it, but I do and that rapture is me.

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