Tag Archives: Jason Isbell
The Zoo Bar is a small venue in downtown Lincoln, NE that has a fairly legendary reputation as a great blues club. There are several bars that cling to this distinction but The Zoo Bar really plays it up with the word “Blues” in their bar logo actually bigger than the bar name. They also have tons of old black and white blues posters for shows at the venue on the walls as wallpaper on one side of the room. The upper area of the wall is filled with framed and matted black and white pictures of blues icons. These things give the bar a very vintage feel and succeeded in making you feel the history by being in the place.
The layout of the bar is pretty standard, a long skinny room with a bar in front on one side leading to a stage in the back portion of the place. I’m not sure how irregular the Jason Isbell show was for this venue but the place was setup all wrong for a rock show. One side was filled with round tables right up to the stage and the other had small tables and bar stools along the wall with one walkway between then and the round tables.
The venue’s seating was full 2 1/2 hours before Isbell took to the stage; meaning that any additional patrons would be forced to stay in front by the bar (where there was very little room to stand) or get up front and literally stand in front of somebody sitting at a table; of course blocking the person sitting’s view. This almost led to a fight at one point which wasn’t very surprising.
The opening act was Drunken Prayer, a folksey two piece band containing just a singer/ guitarist and a bass player. They would do an admirable job for an opening band and were good to listen to in this environment. They did a few traditional songs like “Ain’t No Grave” and gave their music almost a gospel feel. They would mix in catchy originals like the lovelorn “Brazil” and “Maryjane” as well as the entertaining story song “What Made Me Kill.”
The lead singer could have been a Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets vocal clone. At times it was easy to imagine this could have been a solo side project if Drunken Prayer’s singer looked anything like Henneman. Their set was entertaining for about a half hour before the act grew thin. A 40 minute set for the opening act would have been a nice exposure to them. Little did the anxious Sunday crowd know, at 40 minutes the band was only half way through their set. An 80 minute set by an opening band is simply too much. The band’s reception would have been much better if they wouldn’t have overstayed their welcome on stage.
Jason Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit would make a true rock star entrance well before 9:00. They would come straight out of the alley behind the venue to grab their respective instruments and tear into “Go It Alone.” Isbell was unhappy with the sound which could have been amplified by the fact that he and his band are preparing to record a live album soon.
With guitarist Browan Lollar no longer with the band the only founding member behind Isbell is bass player Jimbo Hart who seems to be the backbone of the band. Keyboardist Derry Deborja got a more prominent role in the band’s sound with the absence of Lollar as well. The Unit is rounded out by Chad Gamble on drums who would get a chance to sing lead vocals on a cover of The Meters with “Hey Pocky A-Way.”
Isbell and company would work their way through both their catalog and Isbell’s songs with the Drive-By Truckers to end up with a 19 song, 115 minute set. The songs from his time with the 3 guitar band, the Drive-By Truckers would be the loudest and most rocking of the evening. However, Isbell strength seems to be in slower songs “The Magician” and “In A Razor Town.”
The best song of the evening would prove to be the finest song Isbell has written in “Alabama Pines.” The setlist was largely predictable for any fan of the band. The only surprise would come in the two song encore when they pulled out Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s “American Girl” to cover.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit are always worth going to see. They put on a great show. The most frustrating thing about them is the lack of merchandise they bring with them. They had each of their 3 cds but no vinyl and always seem to be carrying just one or two small shirts, I can think of about 3 Isbell shows where I wanted to buy a shirt and they had no large or extra large sizes.
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, NE 7/9/12 setlist:
- Go It Alone
- Tour Of Duty
- Decoration Day
- Heart On A String
- Goddamn Lonely Love
- Hey Pocky A-Way (The Meters cover)
- The Magician
- In A Razor Town
- Alabama Pines
- Dress Blues
- Cigarettes and Wine
- Never Gonna Change
- encore break
- American Girl (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover)
Tom Waits should be a national treasure. He creates some of the most unique and creative music I’ve ever heard. He does have legions of fans and it seems everybody loved Bad As Me as well they should have. Waits’ recent work has been so strong this album wasn’t much of a surprise. It has a nice balance of “boom-clang” songs and ballads; both of which Waits executes to perfection. It is hands down the most interesting album of the year.
Check out the song: “Hell Broke Luce”
Wilco is America’s greatest living band. They make perfect little pop-rock songs all with interesting textures and Jeff Tweedy writes some of the best lyrics around. The Whole Love was released to much expectation and I feel this is why this record gets overlooked a bit; because everybody knew it would be great.
Check out the song: “Art of Almost”
3. Say Hi – Um Uh Oh
Say Hi is the first “shocker” of my list. I just discovered this band this year and they are fantastic. I would classify them as “nerd-rock” that is very easy on the ears. Say Hi’s songs flow smoothly as much as any band I know, each song is its own little piece of pop wonderfulness.
Check out the song: “Bruises To Prove It”
William Elliott Whimore make the most “real” music I have ever heard. Everything in his songs is authentic. The subject matter is very personal to him and never strays far from home. A lot of banjo and acoustic guitar fill this album with 10 hymns fresh from the black Iowa dirt.
Check out the song: “Not Feeling Any Pain”
Cento-matic is one of the most under-rated bands in America I think. Will Johnson is a great songwriter and the band’s music along with Johnson’s voice is the most unique listening experience on this side of Tom Waits. The album is loud and abrasive but when paired with Johnson’s smooth, echoey vocals it makes for one interesting listen. Not to mention they have the absolute best album cover of the year.
Check out the song: “Iso-Residue”
6. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Here We Rest
Jason Isbell had possibly the two best songs of 2011 on his album Here We Rest. The pairing of the brilliantly county tinged “Codeine” and the flat out great “Alabama Pines” make this album a must. “Tour of Duty” also ranks with Isbell best-penned songs as well. The album is less cohesive than his last record but the high points are much, much higher.
Check out the song: “Alabama Pines”
Those Darlins are a grungy group of 3 ladies and a guy drummer. They are rough and raw and Screw Get Loose is all the better for it. It is a garage-rock masterpiece. The band opened for the Old 97′s and Drive-By Truckers this year and supported a better album than each of those bands put out in 2011.
Check out the song: “Waste Away”
8. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
I was not an Iron and Wine fan before this album. I thought Sam Beam’s record under the name Iron & Wine were flat out boring. I listened to this album and it is amazingly energetic when compared to the band’s other records. Each song has something really interesting about it, this is a true album that plays all the way through smoothly. I viewed this album as a bit of a re-invention for Iron & Wine.
Check out the song: “Monkeys Uptown”
The Black Keys throw out another bluesy gem with El Camino. The record is no big improvement over the rest of the band’s catalog but it is still a solid album. It is still ringing fresh in my ears so it is hard to tell how the record will age right now. I do have a feeling it isn’t a record I will go back to listen to much. It is still better than most music released in 2011.
Check out the song: “Little Black Submarines”
Awolnation is the only band to make the top 10 with their debut album. They are a fresh sound and the music gushes with energy. Megalithic Symphony has way more keyboards than I am normally comfortable with on an album but the band uses them to their advantage in keeping the song amped up. This may be the only album I ever like from this band but it struck me and I feel it is a solid record.
Check out the song: “Jump On My Shoulders”
Knucklehead’s Saloon is an uncomfortable cowboy bar embedded in a rat’s nest of train tracks in Kansas City. The venue plays host to many big name americana/country/blues acts. This Friday September 16th was Jason Isbell’s turn to take the stage at Knuckleheads.
The venue is one of the more difficult venues to find that I have been to; it seems to meticulously placed in the side of a big hill by a train track and you have to drive through a small seedy looking neighborhood to even see the place. The bar is set up as a “sit down” venue and has several permanent tables for the audience. The ceiling is very low for a venue and it doesn’t look like a typical place to see a show. The sound is good though, if you can get past the foibles of the venue you can see some great music at Knucklehead’s.
The opening act of the night was Sky Smeed, a traditional country type of act from Kansas. Smeed displayed his talents in front of mostly respectful crowd for an opening act and received a strong gathering of applause after each song. Like with most opening acts some members of the audience would be horribly disrespectful and be shouting to their friends no more than 20 feet from the stage but this is to be expected.
Smeed was one of the happiest performers in recent memory for me. He was constantly smiling and seemed genuinely appreciative of the applause. His music was perfect for the cowboy bar. He mixed straight forward country (not Kenny Chesney country, the good kind) with some blues songs and some more upbeat numbers. He was even able to mix in a Townes Van Zant cover. Some very well played lap steel guitar was delivered in heavy doses and Smeed’s set was all the better for it.
A nice feature of Knucklehead’s Saloon is the “Retro-Lounge” A second stage within the venue but not quite within earshot of the main stage. The is where Robbie Vee would display his throwback 50′s style rock and roll. Son of the legendary Bobby Vee, Robbie mixed his fathers songs with other music from that time including Buddy Holly songs. The set wasn’t all covers however, he also sang covers that would have fit right in back in the late 50′s/early 60′s. He had the full look with the slightly over-sized colorful suit, slicked back hair and most importantly fantastic black and white shoes.
The good thing about the Retro-Lounge is that Robbie Vee was playing as soon as Sky Smeed starting gathering his things on stage to make way for the next act. This makes a really nice transition between bands. The best music was yet to come as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took the stage at 10pm for a nearly 2 hour set.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is now sans longtime guitarist Browan Lollar. Instead of replacing him, Jason Isbell just takes control of all leads on guitar parts. Isbell is a great guitarist and is more than up to the challenge. I was a Browan Lollar fan and he was a great guitarist but the 400 Unit didn’t suffer much in his departure.
So now a 4-peice band; Isbell, bass player Jimbo Hart, Keyboardist Derry deBorja and drummer Chad Gamble tore into their set. It started with the solid rocker from their new record Here We Rest “Go It Alone.” Isbell would then do “The Magician” off his first solo album Sirens of the Ditch. A couple songs Isbell wrote with the Drive-By Truckers would follow in “Decoration Day” and “Goddamn Lonely Love,” would follow. He would also mix in “Outfit” and “Danko/Manuel” from his truckers catalog later in the set.
Chad Gamble took lead vocals on “Hey Pocky A-Way” and older song by a band called The Meters, this summoned several members of the audience to get up and dance. That song was sandwiched by two of Isbell’s best songs off his latest album Here We Rest, “Alabama Pines” and “Tour of Duty” both songs are a little slower tempo but are great songs. “Alabama Pines” may be the best song Isbell has written so far. The new album would get a nice sampling played from it. Of the 17 songs played he would mix in a total of 6 songs from the record.
After testing the waters with the quieter “In A Razor Town,” Isbell decided the crowd was respectful enough and listening carefully enough to break out a couple of quieter songs. He even took time to thank the crowd for listening. He sent the band off stage then started “Daisy Mae” which turned out to be a show highlight after a couple quick false starts. With the band off-stage Isbell then delighted the audience with a seldom performed song that predates even his days as a Drive-By Trucker, “T.V.A.” The song received a burst of screams after the first line the crowd relished in the performance of the song before Isbell himself would retire from the stage.
The 3 song encore featured “Danko/Manuel” “Codene” and a driving version of the Neil Young classic “Like A Hurricane.” “Codene” required special instrumentation as Jimbo Hart picked up his standup bass and Derry deBorja strapped on his accordion, it was the only song of the night to feature either instrument. “Codene” was pure country gold as Isbell replaced the violin of the studio version with guitar licks to match. The evening would come to a logical conclusion when the blast of distortion that is Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” ended. The band held true to the haunting song and left the audience counting down the days until the band returns back to the area.
- Go It Alone
- The Magician
- Decoration Day
- Goddamn Lonely Love
- Alabama Pines
- Hey Pocky A-Way (The Meters cover, Chad Gamble on vocals)
- Tour of Duty
- In A Razor Town
- Heart on a String
- Daisy Mae (Isbell solo)
- TVA (Isbell solo)
- Like A Hurricane (Neil Young cover)
I do a best of feature on this site and have attempted to make a single disc greatest hits-type compilation for the Drive-By Truckers and it is extremely difficult. The news recently came down the pipe that Ugly Buildings, Whores and Politicians(Greatest Hits 1998-2009) was going to get released. The album is not out but I feel I can review this solely based on the tracklisting, I have all of the songs so this is mainly a review of the song selection put out by New West, their old label that will release the album.
So first the kudos: “Marry Me” “Zip City” “The Living Bubba” “3 Dimes Down” and “Lookout Mountain” give the album big points. None of the songs are bad but there are a couple of questionable inclusions: “Ronnie and Neil” “Uncle Frank” and “A World of Hurt.”
“A World of Hurt” should not be on this disc. That is one the bands best 16 tracks; it might not make my top 50. Other than that, every other song is justifiable.
Jason Isbell gets 2 songs, a fair shake for his time with the band. “Outfit” and “Never Gonna Change” are both great but the exclusion of “Decoration Day” is a little painful for me; I’m justifying it by saying the song was too long. Mike Cooley gets 6 tracks, another fair share, Patterson Hood controls the other 8. Cooley is the secret weapon of the band and gets his anthem “Marry Me” included.
Here is the tracklist:
01 The Living Bubba (a must)
02 Bulldozers and Dirt (good inclusion)
03 Ronnie and Neil (questionable)
04 Zip City (a given)
05 Let There Be Rock (a given)
06 Marry Me (a must)
07 Sink Hole (good inclusion, easily could have been left off)
08 Carl Perkins’ Cadillac (makes sense)
09 Outfit (a good inclusion)
10 The Righteous Path (good inclusion)
11 Gravity’s Gone (Remix) (Yes!)
12 Never Gonna Change (Yes!)
13 3 Dimes Down (Yeah)
14 Lookout Mountain (album wouldn’t work without it)
15 Uncle Frank (Alternate Version) (um, alright)
16 A World of Hurt (what?)
Big exclusions: “Decoration Day” “Women Without Whiskey” “18 Wheels of Love” “Goddamn Lonely Love”
I will post my Greatest Hits list for the Drive-By Truckers soon(I’m at 26 tracks right now(hint: “A World of Hurt” isn’t on it)