Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Tuesday 31 October 2017


Jason Isbell finally made his debut live performance in Birmingham in the exquisite surroundings of Symphony Hall, arguably the finest venue in the country and renowned for its acoustic brilliance. And the multiple Grammy award winning singer songwriter from Alabama and his band were right at home as they lived up to the expectation of being one of the hottest tickets around right now. Coming to Europe on the back of a sold out week at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium Isbell and the 400 Unit are very much on a roll and this was a performance that oozed class from start to finish.

Since 2013’s Southeastern the one time Drive By Trucker has gradually found an ever increasing audience for his narrative storytelling and melting pot of styles (think Americana, Roots, Country and Rock) with 2015’s Something More Than Free and this year’s superb The Nashville Sound further cementing his reputation. What was immediately apparent as they hit the stage with an opening burst of ‘Anxiety’, ’24 Frames’ and ‘Hope the High Road’ was that the 400 Unit were here to Rock. And with Amanda Shires, fiddle player and solo artist in her own right in addition to being Isbell’s wife, not making the trip across the Atlantic the songs were arranged to highlight the twin axes of Isbell and Sadler Vaden as the pair regularly traded tortured solos. The rest of the band, drummer Chad Gamble, bass player Jimbo Hart and Derry Deborja on keyboards and accordion were similarly impressive and ideally suited to Isbell’s laid back and relaxed stage persona.

For the most part the audience were reverential in their appreciation for the music, albeit were roused to their feet for the hard hitting Truckers cover ‘Never Gonna Change’ and closing Tom Petty tribute by way of ‘Refugee’. But it was the stripped down, evocative and moving moments where Isbell explores insecurities and heartache that made the show stand out as something truly special. The thought provoking ‘White Man’s World’, complex emotions of ‘Elephant’ and romantic strength of ‘Cover Me Up’ were each delivered with stunning clarity.

Hands down the best songwriter to come out of America this decade, Isbell and the 400 Unit are also proving to be one of the best live bands around.

Set List:-
24 Frames
Hope the High Road
White Man’s World
Decoration Day
Something More Than Free
Last of My Kind
Alabama Pines
Cumberland Gap
Cover Me Up
If It Takes a Lifetime
Never Gonna Change
If We Were Vampires

Review by Dean Pedley