BEING THERE: Jason Isbell @ The Keswick



Last night, Jason Isbell and his band The 400 Unit were a long way from the torrid climes of their home base of Muscle Shoals — about 50 degrees and a thousand miles, to be exact — inside the Keswick they made themselves right at home and turned up the heat but quick. Most of the sold-out crowd arrived early, and were rewarded for doing so by opening act, Damien Jurado. The Seattle-based indie singer-songwriter warmed the crowd with a tight acoustic set of intense and beautiful songs from his rich catalog. Isbell opened the night with the upbeat melodic “Stockholm” from 2013’s critically acclaimed Southeastern, before drawing on his Drive-by Truckers classic “Decoration Day.” It set the tone of the night: folky, introspective gems from Southeastern alongside buttkicking, wall-pounding Southern rock. Southeastern is Isbell’s fourth studio record, his most well-known and best to-date. As Isbell pointed out early in his set, a lot of the audience probably only knows him from Southeastern. It’s the kind of record that demands you listen to it on vinyl, with the album sleeve and lyrics on hand. Isbell is a master-class songwriter, penning gritty stories about stark, intimate subjects — death, cancer, sexual abuse and addiction — with refreshing honesty and masterful craft. Onstage, Isbell vibed confident, seemed happy, looked svelte and referenced Gordon Lightfoot and Chet Atkins between songs with his charming southern drawl. He proudly introduced the crowd to his new Martin D-18 1939 acoustic guitar last night as he dug into the guts of Southeastern, starting with “Different Days” — a song that contains epic lines like ‘Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin.’ Isbell played the bulk of Southeastern, including “Live Oak”, “Traveling Alone ” the brutally honest “Elephant” and ending the acoustic set with his recovery song, “Cover Me Up,” which drew a standing ovation from the crowd. Isbell then switched up his new Martin acoustic for some steel and pedals. Backed by the 400-Unit, they rocked the old Glenside movie house — especially on the E-Street-Band-esque “Codeine” and the barroom banger “Super 8.” Sober, happy and on top of his game, Isbell, ended the night with a spot-on cover of the Rolling Stones “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” — RORY MCGLASSON