From the stained glass lighting on stage to the chorus of spectating voices singing along, Jason Isbell’s set at the House of Blues this past Saturday night (February 27) felt nothing short of a rock and roll religious experience.
Isbell and his band the 400 Unit brought their brand of country-fried blues to the sprawling Boston venue, opening with the bluesy rocker “Palmetto Rose,” a smoky track that kicked the evening into full gear. Selections from Isbell’s latest effort, Something More Than Free, were spread out throughout the evening: Lead single “24 Frames” shone brightly inside the Lansdowne Street club, and album opener “If It Takes A Lifetime” sounded ever so sweetly like the best The Band song that Levon Helm never wrote but always chased.
“Flagship”, a song that appeared on this very writer’s Top 10 for 2015, was especially beautiful as Isbell basically sang the song with a twinkle in his eye to wife and fiddle player Amanda Shires. In the song’s final stanzas, keyboardist Derry Deborja pumped away on his accordion, giving the song an added sonic dimension.
Isbell’s Boston rendition of “The Life You Chose” also shone brightly on the night as the song’s theme of nostalgia hung in the air between the venue’s walls. The song built on a piano and acoustic guitar foundation and showcased Isbell’s sweet, but sandpaper-tough vocals. The night was not without classics from Isbell and the 400 Unit as the crew broke out classics from Isbell’s “other” band, Drive-By Truckers, like “Never Gonna Change” and “Decoration Day”. The latter sizzled as a southern-styled narrative complete with an awesome guitar solo provided by Sadler Vaden.
Isbell’s standout 2013 album Southeastern got some love, too, as Isbell played a handful of songs from the record. “Cover Me Up” is a song, as Isbell noted to the crowd, about he and Shires and the trials and tribulations that they’ve faced together. It takes a tough man to go through the rigors of keeping love alive despite other colliding forces and it takes an even braver man to be able to tell that each night to a room predominantly filled with strangers.
Saturday night’s openers, Shovels and Rope were the perfect appetizer for the evening. The duo is everything desired from a band that sounds basically like a dash of Johnny and June, and little bit of Gram and Emmylou and the Civil Wars.
The band ripped through a quick, but powerful set before yielding the stage to headliners, and church service promptly began.