On a cool, cloudy Friday evening on September 7 at the Oregon Zoo, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit delighted fans with their Southern Rock/Americana sound. After an inspiring set from beloved singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, whose career spans well over three decades and has earned her two Grammy Awards, the stage was prepared for the main event.
Isbell and the 400 Unit opened their set with “Go It Alone,” from 2011 album Here We Rest. From there, the band worked through an 18-song show drawing upon the range of Isbell’s career, and including several songs from 2017’s critically acclaimed album The Nashville Sound.
With Jimbo Hart on bass, Chad Gamble on drums, Sadler Vaden on guitar, and Derry deBorja on keys, the 400 Unit meld into a sum greater than its parts, Isbell adding his acoustic, electric, or electric slide guitar to the mix. The cohesiveness of this group is plainly evident, whether they are working through heart-wrenching ballads like “Dress Blues,” or ripping through scorchers such as “Cumberland Gap.”
Isbell possesses a certain endearing quality. He writes with an honesty that is disarming, even when touching on political and social themes, wearing his convictions on his sleeve, but with a clear thoughtfulness that’s inclusionary rather and separatist. And, he just comes across as a Southern gentleman. Aimee Mann even remarked that he was “almost unnecessarily polite.” Between songs, when a gruff voice from the audience suggested to Isbell, “Bring your wife out!,” he responded by mimicking the man’s voice and saying, “bring YOUR wife out” and then added a “sir” at the end. He went on to say that his wife (singer/songwriter/violinist Amanda Shires, who has performed as part of the 400 Unit) does what she wants and that she was just in Portland a couple of weeks prior so the gentleman in question should have gone to see her. He then made sure to let the audience know that Shires indeed likes Portland. Isbell also thanked the audience for coming out to see him when they could have just as easily gone to see The War On Drugs, who were playing across town that night.
As easy-going as Isbell might be, when the band begins to play, it’s all business. The 400 Unit makes sure that every song is delivered with an emotional intensity that leaves no question that these compositions come from the heart. It’s this quality of staying true to his art that continues to lift him up as a shining example of what an independent Americana artist should aspire to be.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon, 9.7.18
Go It Alone, Molotov, Hope The High Road, 24 Frames, Different Days, White Man’s World, Decoration Day (Drive-By Truckers), Relatively Easy, Tour of Duty, Dress Blues, Cumberland Gap, Tupelo, Last Of My Kind, Flying Over Water, Cover Me Up, If It Takes A Lifetime, Codeine
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