Jason Isbell & 400 Unit w Justin Townes Earle @ The Independent, SF, 4.3.09

It's rare to get a double-bill as promising as former-Trucker Jason Isbell and a son of Steve Earle. Connections aside, it was the artist's work that made this bill so appealing.

JT Earle took the stage alongside a mandolin/harmonica/vocalist who matched Earle's Hank Williams/Carter Family singing and playing to perfection. At the outset, Earle's throwback style, complete with back-and-forth banter about "riding trains from Memphis to Nashville," among many other simple and charming bits, seemed slightly contrived, but once you let your guard down, it's clear that it's absolutely not. Earle's a fantastic singer, a solid lyricist and has a stage command that, despite being unique in its own right, was clearly borrowed from his pop. "Mama's Eyes" was the highlight of the night, but every single song was met with exuberance from the nearly-packed room. Whenever Earle would be close to wrapping up a song, you could sense the room ready to explode, and just a few seconds later, that it did. "They Killed John Henry" brought the depression to the present and the communal feel seemed to cross from one side of the room to the other. Justin Townes Earle may still be living during the days of the Carter Family and Hank Sr., but based on last night's performance, he's right where he should be.

Isbell and the 400 Unit seemed a bit taken aback as they hopped onstage following the incredibly well-received opener. The hesitation seemed clear as they moved through the first song, but by the time they settled in on to the beautiful "Chicago Promenade," they were in full stride. As the bottle of whiskey went from one player to another, Isbell's confidence rose in songs ranging from the DBTs' "Danko/Manuel" to his own "Cigarettes and Wine" and the beautiful "Dress Blues." An absolutely rousing version of The Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" had the room swinging. When the crowd wasn't gripped by the words, they were leaping up and down to a rock band in perfect form.

This is a fantastic double bill. As I headed home on the San Francisco streets, I felt full of country and rock and roll, spanning what seemed to be almost 100 years.


Scott said...

did jason isbell sing "Outfit?"

Campbell said...

i don't recall that. is it a truckers song?