When Jason Isbell announced that he was leaving Drive-by Truckers to work on his own material, I was looking forward to seeing what would come next. I am a huge fan of the Truckers and his songs are some of the highlights of their catalog.
His solo album, Sirens of the Ditch, came out last year and immediately earned a place in my heavy rotation. The album stands up well against “Outfit,” “Decoration Day,” and other songs from his Truckers years. I had missed Jason and the 400 Unit when they came to New York last year. They returned this past Tuesday night, playing to a not quite sold-out Bowery Ballroom. While they may not have the sheer brute force of DBT — few bands do — this is a tight outfit and fit Jason’s music perfectly.
The ninety-minute set had a nice balance between songs from “Sirens” and a number of songs that he wrote for the Truckers, although “Outfit” didn’t make the setlist, much to my disappointment. “Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Brand New Kind of Actress” were standouts.
Near the end of the set, the band was joined by Eleanor Whitmore, the fiddle player from opener Will Hoge’s band. She was on-stage for one of the highlights of the night: a sweet cover of “Into the Mystic.”
Where a DBT show is raucous and brash, one that leaves you with barely enough energy to get yourself home, last night’s show was a more intimate affair. No big light show, no frills — just a tight set by one of the best songwriters on the scene today. I’m glad I didn’t miss him this time around.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Bowery Ballroom, New York City
February 21, 2008
Brand New Kind of Actress
Goddamn Lonely Love
Into the Mystic*
I Don’t Want To Fight**
Never Gonna Change
*With Eleanor Whitmore
**Tom Petty Cover, with Will Hoge