The Nashville Sound In Boston: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit At Blue Hills Bank Pavilion – Review & Photos

By Andrew Bruss Jun 28, 2017 10:21 am PDT

Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit w/ The Mountain Goats
06.27.17 :: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion :: Boston, MA

Check out a gallery of Andrew’s photos after the review.

Blowing past a curfew imposed by the City of Boston, Jason Isbell & The 400 unit put on a set of Modern Americana that further solidifies his stature as one of the premiere American singer/songwriters of the 21st Century. Isbell’s inexplicable knack for telling a story through song is consistently expanding the boundaries of categorical limitations while simultaneously maturing his lyrical content parallel to his own personal growth. His set in Boston whipped a crowd of thousands into a state of near-rabidity and demonstrated his credentials as the hopeful savior of County Rock.

Following a well received opening set by The Mountain Goats, whose cult following consisted of a decent percentage of the audience, the skies opened up with a vengeance and torrential downpours accompanied by thunder and lightening delayed the start of Isbell’s set by half an hour. Performing past 11 p.m. at the covered outdoor venue would cost thousands of dollars in fines and had the weather lasted any longer, it would have been tough for ticket holders to have gotten their money’s worth. Then, out of the blue, Isbell and Co. took the stage and ripped right into “Anxiety,” one of the tracks off his chart-topping, weeks-old album, The Nashville Sound.

The entire 400 Unit balanced tight technique with a casual deminor and Isbell spent plenty of time saddling up to various members as a generous way of sharing the stage. The chemistry with his crew was there but the adoration between Isbell and his fiddler/wife, Amanda Shires, took that chemistry to whole other level with a Bruce Springsteen/Patti Scialfa kind of vibe that is just as heartwarming as it is authentic.

Prior to his solo career, Isbell made a name for himself as one of the three co-songwriters in Drive-By Truckers and his performance of “Decoration Day,” off the Truckers album of the same name, was an early highlight. Up next was a song called “White Man’s World” that was a powerful, introspective self-reflection on white male privilege and his role in a racist power system. On one verse, he sang “I’m a white man living on a white man’s street/I’ve got the bones of the red man under my feet.” For the next verse, Isbell sings, “I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes/Wishing I’d never been ‘One of the Guys’.”

Towards the end of the set, Isbell performed “Cover Me Up,” a fan favorite he wrote for his wife, and although the song isn’t a duet, it felt that way at times because he was literally performing the song for her before our eyes.

“Never Gonna Change” closed out the set out on a high note that was sure to make plenty of ticketholders long for the days when he was throttling his audience with epic solos as one of the Drive-By Truckers. The barnburner showcased Isbell playing his best lead work of the night,effectively reminding his audience that although he’s taken on a mellower sound since going solo, he’s still the same axeslinger who held his own on stage with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley night after night.

11 p.m. came and went and although sound ordinances had come into effect, it didn’t stop Isbell from giving his audience the complete performance they’d paid for. The night was capped off with an encore that honored the recently departed Gregg Allman with a take on “Whipping Post,” that featured the kind of flashy-yet-tasteful slide licks that would make Duane Allman proud.

[Whipping Post | Captured by Miles Rose]

Everything about the show, from the musicianship to the full-length setlist was consummately professional and is a testament to his iconoclastic stature on the Country circuit. Modern/Pop Country has digressed into a patronizing caricature of what the genre used to be, replacing narratives about actual working class struggles with repetitive references to pickup trucks, cheap beer and gross references to the Confederate “Rebel Yell.” Meanwhile, Jason Isbell, Alabama’s native son, is championing songs about White Privilege and the long hard road to living a sober life. His literal approach to songwriting is true to the legacy and traditions of his predecessors and his ability to galvanize his audience as a vocalist, lead guitarist and performer is beyond reproach. Kurt Cobain was commonly referred to as a “savior” of rock for bringing authenticity back after years of cheesy Hair Metal. Jason Isbell is bringing authenticity back at a time when his scene needs it the most and his performance in Boston was further proof that he is the savior Country Music needs now more than ever.

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion

  • Anxiety
  • Hope the High Road
  • 24 Frames  
  • Decoration Day  
  • White Man's World
  • Traveling Alone  
  • Chaos and Clothes
  • Cumberland Gap
  • Molotov
  • The Life You Chose  
  • Last of My Kind
  • Stockholm  
  • Flying Over Water  
  • Cover Me Up  
  • If It Takes a Lifetime  
  • Something More Than Free  
  • Never Gonna Change  
  • If We Were Vampires
  • Whipping Post  
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