Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, February 4, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
After getting off to a rocky start Wednesday night, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit knocked out some serious rock and blues at their show at the Horseshoe, the only Canadian stop on their current tour. Isbell commented that they barely made the show due to trouble crossing the Canadian border, which was, according to Isbell, "mostly my fault." I can picture Isbell and his southern drawl lipping off to a surly Canadian customs agent, but seriously customs, why do you always give bands such a hard time?
It appeared to me that the band got little, if any, sound check before launching into "Seven-Mile Island" from their new self-titled release. But after a few chunky notes, the band quickly found its groove. They played seven or eight tracks from their new release, interspersed with favorites from their 2007 debut, Sirens of the Ditch, plus many Isbell-penned tracks from his time spent with the Drive-By Truckers.
Many in the audience were there specially to hear the songs from Isbell's Truckers era, and they were not disappointed. There was an audible gasp from the crowd when the band hit the first chord of "Danko/Manuel," a song about Rick Danko and Richard Manuel of the massively influential Canadian group, The Band. Man, what a great song. At the end of the song Isbell commented that he was trying to play his guitar in the style of his favorite Canadian musician, and no, he was not talking about Alex Lifeson.
Isbell and his band closed with a ten-minute extended jam of "Decoration Day," which followed a rousing cover of the Rolling Stone's "Sway." I rushed back to buy the new CD along with dozens of other people. I'm pretty sure that Isbell and the 400 Unit converted a few Truckers fans that night. Too much of a good thing kicks ass!
Set List (not really in order, plus four or five other tracks from their new self-titled album who's names I did not know)
Seven-Mile Island - self titled (2009)
Try - Sirens of the Ditch (2007)
Chicago Promenade - Sirens of the Ditch
Goddamn Lonely Love - The Dirty South (2004)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads cover)
Outfit - Decoration Day (2003)
Cigarettes and Wine - self titled
Grown - Sirens of the Ditch
Danko/Manuel - The Dirty South
Never Gonna Change - The Dirty South
Soldiers Get Strange - self titled
The Assassin (Patterson Hood cover)
Sway (Rolling Stones cover)
Decoration Day - Decoration Day
Cigarettes and Wine.mp3
Buy: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (2009)
Deer Tick opened the show, but I skipped it to watch Lost. And the damn Lost episode wasn't even that good. I suck. So then I felt bad for skipping the opening act and I bought Deer Tick's 2007 self-released album War Elephant, which was reissued in 2008 by Partisan Records. Providence, Rhode Island, native John McCauley originally wrote all of the songs and played all of the instruments on this album. The band is rounded out by Andrew Tobiassen on vocals and guitar, and brothers Chris and Dennis Ryan on bass and drums, respectively.
Buy: War Elephant (2008)